Moral March on Starbuck Workers United shows sign at Moral March on Washington and to the Polls, by the Poor People's Campaign. June 8, 2022

The clapback is real. Amazon and Starbucks slug it out with employees involved in unionization efforts, give them pink slips

4 mins read

After Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer won the battle to gain collective bargaining power for Amazon employees, Amazon mounted a counter-attack then Starbucks followed suit.

Fresh off the victory won by Christian Smalls, interim president of the Amazon Labor Union, and co-founder Derrick Palmer, Amazon management made changes by firing several managers tasked with unionization efforts. As well, Starbucks employees assert that over 75 people were fired due to organizing this year. There is no doubt that these two companies will not comply with employee demands without a fight.

“Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have,” said Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel.  “As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.” 

While the media statements offer warm and fuzzy feels, tensions rise while Amazon and Starbucks execs remain unmoved by the vicious cycle of low wages, high turnover rates, and non-stop protests. In their view, unionization won’t help workers achieve their goals.

It is true that an employer can offer attractive wages and working conditions to potential employees with the implied contract of remaining non-union, yet Starbucks and Amazon have not budged on paying a livable wage or improving working conditions. 

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Recently, the counter-attacks of Starbucks have become slightly more nuanced. In addition to firing employees involved in unionization efforts, the coffee chain said it would raise the wages, as well as, enhance other benefits such as credit card tipping, later this year for all employees. All but for those who work at unionized shops. The decision comes after the company announced that they are unable to make changes at organized stores without bargaining. 

“Workers United refuses to stand by while Starbucks cynically promises new benefits only to non-unionized workers and withholds them from our members,” said Lynne Fox, president of Workers United, in a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

Across the Pond protests gain momentum

The United States is not the only place with dissatisfied employees. As a result of Britain’s cost of living crisis and growing discontent among employees concerning wages, more than 700 Amazon warehouse workers staged a protest in England over pay.

Moreover, in years passed, Amazon employees in the UK, France, Germany, and Spain spoke out against the company’s working conditions on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Amazon’s upper management shuttered in their boots as the profits dropped. Similar to the United States, employees are demanding better pay and benefits, better work hours, including an end to Amazon’s practice of using temporary workers.

In Germany, there were also strikes in May held by employees of seven Amazon distribution centers. Additionally, protests were held on the same day in Coventry and Bristol warehouses. 

With the holiday shopping season approaching, it remains to be seen whether Amazon will be able to quell the unrest among its workforce. While there has been no word of another Black Friday protest this year, that doesn’t mean that it will not happen, as employees have not had their demands met.

“Amazon should have a proper engagement, and really have a look at a proper wage that actually means something to those who are working for them . . . just because the market may pay a rate doesn’t necessarily mean that they should just follow blindly behind everyone else,” said Steve Garelick, a regional organizer at GMB, General Trade Union, a union that represents Amazon U.K. workers.

People rallied outside Whole Foods at 10th Street & South Street, just steps from a Starbucks store, in Philadelphia on Feb 26, 2022. Amazon and Starbucks employees are two of a handful of workers at franchise companies engaged in a labor movement revival. Photo credit: Joe Piette/Flickr

Not a minimum wage, but a living wage

You know what they say, “happy employee, happy workplace.” Still, the minimum wage struggle has been an uphill battle. Mainly because the federal wage has not increased significantly. While private companies can determine their wage threshold, anti-union corporations tend to underpay, and state employment taps into federal pay rates, causing GOP-majority states like South Carolina to use the federal wage as a barometer. 

But there is a living wage movement that aims to raise wages. The key focus of the movement is to ensure that the majority of professions in the service sector wages are raised to that of a self-sustaining wage. 

“No one in America should be working 40 hours a week and living below the poverty level. No one. No one,” said President Biden.

It is nevertheless true that real wages and salaries of many workers have stagnated over the many years of fighting, despite the rise in per capita income. Aside from this, municipalities are outsourcing work previously done by civil servants. 

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“Smalls said the secret of success for a union drive like the one in Staten Island is worker-to-worker organizing — workers who know the stresses & strains of working at Amazon talking to other workers. That’s a lot like the secret of success in the Starbucks unionization wins,” tweeted former New York Times Labor Reporter Steven Greenhouse. 

Indeed, after decades of wrangling, workers at Starbucks and Amazon have formed unions to fight for better treatment from management. Although there is light at the end of the tunnel for the new wave of protests, the fight is not over. Amazon and Starbucks heads have been creating other tactics to thwart unionizing stores. From shuttering shops to firing union-organizing leaders for made up allegations or small infractions, the attempts show temporary impact, but long live the union revolution.

Journalist established in 2001, inspired by transformative leads.

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