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Interview with Starbucks union organizer in New Orleans

By staff

Starbucks union organizers outside their store.

New Orleans, LA – On Tuesday, April 19, baristas at the Starbucks café on Maple Street filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election. Workers complain about chronic understaffing, few hours and low wages. Poor scheduling was especially hard on the employees during Mardi Gras, when the New Orleans tourism industry is at its peak. Fight Back! interviewed Billie, a shift supervisor and organizer of the union drive. Billie’s last name is not being used due to concerns about company retaliation.

Fight Back!: What are the issues that made y’all want to start unionizing? Billie: I have this one coworker that’s been with the company for 13 years. I’ve been with the company for three years and we make the same amount of money. We all thought that was ridiculous. Why don’t we get paid more for being here longer?

Right before Mardi Gras, they started cutting out hours. It was the busiest season we had and we were so under-scheduled. That’s when I was like “We gotta do this right now.” Really it’s under-scheduling and our hours being cut.

Also, our wages should be better. We’re pushing for a $20 base pay, $23 for shift supervisors and a dollar for every year you’re with the company, adjusted for inflation.

We’re making so much profit for this company, and they say, “we’re spending too much on labor.” How can you spend too much on labor when you’re making so much profit, where do you think the profit comes from?

Fight Back!: What kind of support do you want from people outside Starbucks? Billie: I’ve been living for the outpouring of support. We’re so under-scheduled, and management is pretending we aren’t. One day I was so upset about this, but somebody came in that evening and gave us a bouquet of roses and a card with $20.

People come in and order a drink with “union strong” as their name, but I’ve been so overwhelmed by all the customers. Even to people coming in to support us, I really wanna be like thank you so much, but I’m on bar making seven drinks. I don’t have time to tell you how much I appreciate it.

I have a lot of people supporting me in organizing committees in the city. When I went to the library, someone there from the New Orleans City Workers Organizing Committee gave me all these fantastic resources.

Our Instagram is SBWorkersMapleStreet for people who want to follow us.

Fight Back!: What’s your message to other Starbucks workers? Billie: Starbucks can afford to give all of us better working conditions. The CEO, he pocketed a $4 million bonus or something like that. It’s ridiculous that some of us are struggling to pay rent and we’re being overworked and overwhelmed and we deserve better. We’re making them so many millions of dollars that we deserve.

We are the reason they have money in the first place.

Get in touch with Starbucks Workers United. Anyone in our district that wants to unionize can contact me, and I can help them out.

Fight Back!: What’s the status of the election? How do you think it could go? Billie: We don’t have a date for the election yet, the hearing is scheduled for May 9 to decide whether we’ll vote as individual store or as a district. This is the strategy that Starbucks has used in every case.

But I genuinely believe that we would win this election. There are 16 people at our store, and most of them are firm yesses.

#NewOrleansLA #StarbucksWorkersUnited