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Starbucks and UPS union organizers speak at FRSO New Orleans panel

By J Martel

Panelists lead discussion at labor forum in New Orleans.

New Orleans, LA – On July 1, fifteen people gathered for a panel at the Nora Navra Library to hear report backs from the successful unionization of two local Starbucks coffee stores. The panel also included a report from the frontlines of the UPS-Teamster contract negotiations.

Starbucks workers win union election

Billie Nyx, former shift lead at the Maple Street Starbucks, opened by sharing their experience organizing the union with Starbucks Workers United. Baristas at their store began their campaign to unionize in April 2022 due to issues like understaffing, inconsistent hours and unsafe working conditions.

After months of organizing, and a couple of weeks before the union vote at the Starbucks on Maple Street, Starbucks fired Nyx, allegedly for closing the store early one evening.

“The union-busting that we faced was nothing compared to the outpouring of support that we got from the community,” Nyx said. “It helped everyone stay on board with the drive to unionize.”

Nyx’s unfair labor practice case against Starbucks is still pending with the National Labor Relations Board. On June 4, 2022, the Maple Street Starbucks voted to unionize 11 to 1, making it the first Starbucks store in Louisiana to join Starbucks Workers United.

“The union is us organizing to improve our working conditions; us coming together to fight for something better than what we have,” Serena Sojic-Borne, employee at the Poydras Street Starbucks, said.

Sojic-Borne continued, “It’s really important that people do not buy into union-busting myths that Starbucks corporate will spread, adding, “they’re either lies or they’re things that Starbucks has done that are illegal and that we fight against. And in all cases, it is better to have a union than to not.”

Sojic-Borne detailed how she and coworkers worked together to successfully unionize their Starbucks store – the first majority-Black Starbucks in New Orleans to unionize. On May 22, the Poydras Street Starbucks became one of the 331 stores, as of June, to join Starbucks Workers United.

Starbucks Workers United formed in late 2021 and has a membership of over 8000 workers across the U.S. The union is demanding Starbucks meet them at the bargaining table.

Teamsters prepare strike at UPS

Efforts to unionize at Starbucks are part of the uptick in labor organizing taking place across the U.S. In June, 97% of UPS Teamsters approved the use of a strike if their contract expires before negotiations finish. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is made up of over 1.3 million workers, including over 350,000 UPS workers, many of them lower wage part-timers. A UPS strike would be the largest single-employer strike in U.S. history.

“We’re really putting pressure on the company. The end result of this is that other companies – like Amazon, like Starbucks – are going to see the result of the rank-and-file struggle in action and actively want to replicate that,” said Hannah Keith, shop steward of Teamsters Local 396 Los Angeles.

Keith continued, “The whole of the U.S. labor movement is looking towards UPS as a critical moment. I think we can win and I’m excited to see my coworkers in action.”

Contract negotiations with UPS have been underway for months, and while significant gains have been made, UPS management walked out of contract negotiations over raising part-time pay for Teamsters. As the July 31 contract expiration date approaches, Teamsters across the country are holding practice picket lines. A strike grows ever more likely.

In New Orleans, FRSO is calling a strike support committee to ensure members of Teamsters Local 270 are supported if they go on strike. The committee will meet on Saturdays at 1:30 at 2533 Columbus Street. It can be reached at [email protected].

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