Resurgent IWW breeds among New York’s Starbucks baristas and immigrant warehouse workers
by David Freedlander
May 15, 2007
As the labor movement in America continues its backward retreat, New York has seen a surprising resurgence from the unlikeliest of places—the [Industrial] Workers of the World.
The Wobblies, as the union is commonly known, have led two high-profile organizing campaigns around the city at a series of warehouses in Brooklyn and Queens and at Starbucks locations throughout Manhattan.
Though the members are still few, they have already attracted the attention of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who last month issued a strongly worded letter in defense of the nascent union to Starbucks Corporation CEO James Donald.
“I fully expect that you will allow these employees to consider independently whether to form a union, without outside pressure or intimidation from Starbucks management,” she wrote. “Their efforts to organize are a democratic right and should be respected.”
Both the warehouse and the coffee shop efforts have been resisted by management, which has lead the IWW to file complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. While the warehouse case winds its way through the bureaucracy, in March of last year the NLRB found Starbucks guilty of 30 violations of federal labor law, including threatening, intimidating, and firing workers who joined the IWW.
“Our union is undergoing a resurgence right now,” said Starbucks Worker Union co-founder and IWW organizer Daniel Gross. “There were some tough years, but we are now back with a commitment to organizing again. We have enabled people to not accept the absolute power of their employer at work.”