A rally in New York City today to protest Starbucks Coffeeâ€™s negative reaction to recent union organizing efforts ended with four arrests, including the detention of two Starbucks employees who are members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union branch 660 (IU 660).
Chanting “Union busting is disgusting,” about 400 protesters gathered around 2:00 p.m. at a midtown Starbucks located at 36th street and Madison Avenue, proceeded to the Starbucks headquarters on the corner of the Empire State Building, and returned to the 36th street store.
The midtown store has been the center of a union organizing dispute between Starbucks and the IWW.
Protesters came from across the country for the rally, which is one of many protest activities planned during the week of the Republican National Convention. Included among the demonstrators were many from the ranks of the IWW and other unions.
One of the two Starbucks workers arrested was Daniel Gross, 25, who has been a vocal organizer and strong supporter of the Industrial Workers of the World union organizing drive. As previously reported in The NewStandard, Grossâ€™ union activism has led to stern warnings of possible termination from Starbucks, which accused him of blocking the entrance to the store while handing out pamphlets a few weeks ago. Moments before his arrest, Gross lamented to The NewStandard, “They are trying to fire me for completely law abiding activities.”
Michael Scwhartz, an eyewitness to the arrest, said, “I was standing right next to Daniel on the sidewalk when they arrested him, and I was doing the same thing he was — trying to communicate with the other half of the protesters they split us off from, but [the police] went right after him and threw him down to the ground in the intersection.” Police had separated the demonstrators into two groups, saying they had to clear a right of way for pedestrians.
At the time of Grossâ€™s arrest, his co-worker Anthony Polanco was giving an interview to the NewStandard. Polanco said the IWW had changed its tactic to seek official recognition after Starbucks appealed a National Labor Relations Board ruling that was to allow his store to vote on union representation. After the Bush-appointed Labor Board said that the union organizers would have to wait to vote on their union until the end of the appeals process, which could last up to three years, the organizers decided to withdraw their request to vote on instituting a union.
Polanco explained the unionâ€™s decision to not wait out the appeals process: “Weâ€™re going to continue to organize the old fashioned way, directly and democratically, just like the old school unions had to do when they did not have a chance for legal recognition. You got huge powerful corporate lawyers against us and the whole [appeals] process could take years. Itâ€™s better this way.”
Moments after making that comment, Polanco wondered out loud, “Where is Dan?” and walked over toward the southwest corner of 36th and Madison where the rally was being held and saw his co-worker and friend in handcuffs in the middle of the intersection. Police arrested Polanco as well when he verbally confronted them about arresting his friend.
Ten minutes later, police arrested two more unidentified male protesters as well, this time at the northwest corner of the store for refusing a general order to clear the sidewalk.
Benjamin Ferguson, the branch secretary of the IWWâ€™s New York City chapter, said: “The IWW is a radically different type of union. We realize that most of laborâ€™s victories have been won with on-the-job actions, not through the government.” Ferguson explained that that IU 660 plans to undertake a number of on-the-job tactics to win demands, such as coordinated work slow-downs, instead of waiting out the appeal which IU 660 formally withdrew several weeks ago.
The IWW is a legendary union with a rich history of resistance and landmark labor victories. Many labor experts credit the unionâ€™s early militancy as leading to the eight-hour work day.
If workers at the 36th street Starbucks are successful in their organizing efforts, they will become the first unionized Starbucks in the country. Though Fortune magazine rated the coffee giant one of the 100 best companies to work for in 2002, Starbucks pays many of its New York areas workers less than $8 an hour and gives raises as low as ten cents. The company does provide workers who put in twenty hours a week with medical, dental and vision insurance, but workers say these benefits are not enough to offset the low wages and repetitive stress injuries caused by using the espresso machines.
While resisting workers’ demands, Starbucks reported $4.2 billion in sales for the first half of 2004, a 28 percent increase over the same period last year.
Four NewStandard correspondents, including Andrew Kennis, are presently covering events outside the Republican National Convention in New York City.