Sherman Avenue Starbucks employees file to unionize


Photo courtesy of Sarah Wachs

Employees of the Sherman Avenue Starbucks after they filed for unionization on May 3.

Shannon Tyler, City Editor

After months of management turnover and instability, the Starbucks at 1734 Sherman Ave. hired a new permanent manager in March. But, employee and Weinberg sophomore Sarah Wachs said the store’s new manager has only exacerbated the store’s issues. 

Several employees at the Starbucks filed for unionization Wednesday to join the national Starbucks Workers United movement.

Wachs said the staff has faced discrimination based on religious identity and lack of protection for transgender employees, in addition to issues with communication, understaffing and underscheduling –– all without support from upper management.

“It came to a point where we were like, ‘We could get fired,’ but (unionizing) is almost a necessity because even when we would reach up to higher management about our concerns, there was nothing that was happening,” Wachs said. 

Former employee and Weinberg sophomore Miracle Burt said she has experienced Islamophobia from management. She said she quit last week because of the toll the job started to take on her mental health. 

She said management made the environment uncomfortable for people of all religions and identities, noting two negative experiences she had during Ramadan this year. 

According to Burt, the store’s manager made negative remarks about her fasting to other employees and wasn’t understanding about the physical limitations that come with fasting. The manager told another employee Burt’s fasting was not “good enough reason” to opt out of a weekly coffee tasting, she said. 

“When I heard (that comment), I was like, ‘So do you want me to just leave my religion at the door when I come into work? That’s not how it works here in the United States,’” Burt said.

Employee Marissa Morrison said employees have consistently not been scheduled for enough hours, leaving the store consistently understaffed during the busiest times. 

She said she went from working 24 hours a week to 12 since March — which is Starbucks’ minimum. 

“Everybody was getting horrific hours. We were all begging to pick up shifts, trying to do whatever we could to afford to live,” Morrison said. “Then we got our latest manager and it got worse.”

Wachs said their current manager blamed this issue on employees, claiming they were not submitting enough available hours. Both Wachs and Morrison said that’s false.

Wachs said their manager has also discussed hiring more people to their 30-person staff and made remarks about firing college student workers — who make up about one-third of the staff — and plan to leave for the summer. He also threatened not to rehire them if they wanted to come back after the summer. 

Wachs said transgender and Jewish staff members are not protected at the location. Both management and customers have created uncomfortable situations for employees with those identities, Wachs said, and management hasn’t tried to stop the incidents from happening. 

“We have a number of transgender coworkers who have been blatantly misgendered by our boss and by other customers and people, and there’s been no reconciliation for that,” Wachs said. “We have had a number of customers that have come in and been blatantly antisemitic to us and nothing has happened to them.”

Wachs said, several employees worked with Starbucks Workers United’s Chicago branch for about a month to start organizing. They went through training and learned about propaganda the corporation might use to stop them from organizing. During that time, Wachs said, those involved were scared of losing their job.

Wachs said they could not speak about unionizing on store property and had to assess privately who in the staff would support the idea and who wouldn’t. 

But, Morrison said, staff at the Sherman Avenue Starbucks is like a family, so she was not worried about reaching the legally required 30% support from the staff to file for unionization. But their goal, according to Wachs, was to achieve 70% support –– which they achieved. 

“If one person was experiencing something negative, we all felt injustice over it,” Morrison said. 

Wachs said even though management took their unionization announcement well, the company’s anti-union stance was evident. After filing, she said, management replaced her posters presenting resources on organizing efforts with other posters discouraging unionizing. 

As Starbucks employees across the country have started organizing –– including the store at 519 Main St. and several in Chicago –– the corporation has come under fire for anti-union practices. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz testified in front of Congress for allegedly breaking labor laws in March. 

The corporation said in a statement to The Daily it is working on improving its relationship with partners of Starbucks Workers United. 

“Looking forward, we remain engaged and ready to bargain in-person with the unions certified to represent our partners,” Starbucks said. “We continue to encourage all parties to apply current law in their approach to future bargaining efforts.”

Madison Lisle, a Workers United organizer who worked with the Sherman Avenue Starbucks, said the time between filing and their official election, which Wachs said is set for late June, is a vulnerable time for the organizers. 

“Now is the time where the company is going to try to hit them hardest with union busting,” Lisle said. 

Lisle said partners at the store need solidarity from the community and to keep internal morality strong. 

Wachs said there is a contradiction between Starbucks’ purported values and their policies and treatment of employees. 

“Starbucks has this big value and mission of creating a welcoming place where people can step away from their world and have a reprieve for a moment,” Wachs said. “But we’re not really given the resources for us to be able to (provide that), and then we’re punished when we’re not able to.”

Update: A previous version of this story did not include the experiences of employees of all religious identities at the store. This story has been updated to include the experience of former employee Miracle Burt who shared her story of encountering Islamophobia with The Daily after publication.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @shannonmtyler

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