Manhattan Starbucks employees’ 45-day strike calls for bedbug elimination and contract negotiations – Folks’s World

Manhattan Starbucks employees’ 45-day strike calls for bedbug elimination and contract negotiations – Folks’s World

Jacob Buckner / Folk World

NEW YORK — On December 7, 2022, supporters gathered at the Chelsea Starbucks Roastery, where Starbucks United workers have been on strike for 45 days. Workers here left the store citing health violations such as mold and bug infestations in the store.

People’s World spoke to Nicole Derose, one of the organizers who is on strike every day fighting for safety requirements to be met and for the company to negotiate a union contract with her and her colleagues.

People’s World: What is your name and what is your position at Starbucks? How long have you been out here on strike and what were your reasons for going on strike?

Nicole Derose: I’m Nicole, barista at this location and a member of Starbucks United. Today is day 44 of our strike. It all started on a Tuesday when one of our colleagues decided to leave work after finding bugs in our break room the day before. We refused to work because we didn’t want to bring bed bugs home, so it all started with that.

When did workers in your store decide to organize and when did you become aware of these health and safety concerns?

We had won our union vote on April 1st, becoming a member of the union represented by Starbucks Workers United. We noticed these issues, particularly the ice machine, in the summer of June and July.

Our partners opened the machine and it was full of mold. Partners cleaning the machine became ill and had to be hospitalized after inhaling the mold. We got sick while taking it. The mold would find its way into the ice chunks and into the serving chute.

When we pointed this out to the managers on the floor and said, “Look, there’s mold on this ice cream,” they said, “Toss the slice in the sink, don’t serve the slice, just scoop it around and the rest is the ice.” okay.” This went on for months, and we finally reached our breaking point.

There was a lack of communication with the bed bugs despite management knowing they were there. Partners have seen them with their own eyes, but managers have not notified us. We had to hear it word of mouth. None of the managers brought it up with us. They were told to keep it quiet because they didn’t want us to freak out.

It was a complete lack of communication and lack of trust. Since the break room wasn’t secure, we had all our stuff in plastic bags and left them there. All these problems culminated in a spontaneous strike. I said, “I don’t feel safe in this store,” and we walked out. That was on Tuesday October 25th almost two months ago. We’re out here every day, rain or shine.

Were there any signs that the company wanted to come to the table and fulfill your demands? I can imagine that these demands also have a lot to do with the union’s general demand for a contract.

Regarding the national hearing date, yes. Since the day we voted seven months ago, we’ve said, ‘Let’s get our national contract going, let’s set our true collective bargaining agreement.’ They always said no. So that’s one of our demands on this strike: yes, we want all the health and safety issues resolved, but we also want a trial date. The strike lasted almost 40 days but we got them to schedule an appointment.

We also understand that you had a meeting with the company to discuss your list of claims. How did that go and how did the company respond to your needs as an employee?

Just before Thanksgiving, we had a meeting with Starbucks corporate lawyers and a company health and safety officer. But none of the managers showed up even though we wanted them to. The management itself will not come to these meetings. They said to us, ‘okay, let’s actually discuss your strike demands’, since we had emailed our demands every morning as a strike notice.

Jacob Buckner / Folk World

The list of demands includes basic things like a hearing date, transparency, a new ice machine, and a timeline. We want to have the store fumigated for bed bugs because it’s been months now and colleagues are still finding them.

We also wanted to see exterminator reports. They have now shown us these reports in these corporate meetings, which we consider to be a win for us. One of the reports they brought back was “A dead bed bug found” in November. Yet we still hear from inside that they are finding live ones with our colleagues.

So we know what’s happening. These are basic things that they should have always done, but now we have to come to the table and demand it.

How was it in terms of support from colleagues and others still in the building?

What we are doing is seen as a minority-led strike. Between 100 and 110 workers work at this site and about 35 of us take a step to come out and strike. We firmly believe that the only way to change is to do it together.

Our initial hope was that everyone would come out and join us, but we understand individuals have extenuating circumstances. We really want to uphold and promote the message that whatever we’re doing out here isn’t just for us on strike, it’s for all of our friends who are still working inside.

We want a better deal for ourselves, but also for the people who can’t come out and stand by us. In a perfect world they would be with us and it would help get the result faster, but right now the minority works for the greater good of the majority.

Do you think that going on strike with the union provides additional protections that would otherwise complicate matters? How will this strike affect your work at the company when you return to the company?

Yeah, they can’t fire us. Strike is a federally protected act. As soon as we go in, they can’t say, “You’re on strike, so you can’t come back.” What the company will do is go back and search our records with a fine comb and a magnifying glass, and they’ll keep an eye on us, when we go back inside. That’s because they don’t want people they know working for them. They want to have an easy time and do whatever they want with workers, so we’re prepared for that. This is the reality that comes with strikes.

Was there support from other trade unions and political groups in relation to external help? When I interviewed another worker in the striking At Starbucks on Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, they said a large part of the strike’s survival was thanks to outside support through a strike fund.

I will take this as an opportunity to plug our GoFundMe. We are on strike and are compensated by the union strike fund, but they do not reimburse all of our wages. It’s a huge financial hardship for us to be out here and nobody thought it would take that long.

We’re going to 45 days tomorrow. We had a lot of external support; We had people from different organizations. We held a big rally in November and so many unions from different industries like Teamsters, CWA, CUNY schools as well as UPS workers who are in solidarity with us have come to support us. It’s amazing to have a rally and see a UPS truck drive by and honk like, “Yes, we’re unionized too!” It keeps us going.

Do you have any last words on the strike and your demands for the future?

We continue! There’s a notion that we’re out here just because we want to be out here, but we’re out here because we have to be. We just want to feel safe when we go back inside. That’s all we want. We want us to feel safe and we want everyone to feel safe inside. That is the core of our message.


Jacob Buckner