This Labor Day weekend, workers at Starbucks locations across the city organized a series of “sip-in” protests with the Philly Democratic Socialists of America.
The goal: “Buy small and tip large.”
“The service industry can be an exploitive business practice,” said Connor Alguire, a 23-year-old barista. “We aren’t getting paid enough with the amount of work that we’re doing, especially when you’re trying to pay bills like student debt.”
Alguire works at the Starbucks at 22nd and South streets, and is a member of Starbucks Workers United. He’s also worked as a union organizer for a month and says that the efforts Starbucks corporation has made to raise wages and protect workers’ rights have not been enough.
“We need to come together and make sure that we’re advocating for ourselves and advocating for our rights,” he said.
“Sip-ins” are a nationwide, coordinated effort by Starbucks Workers United to draw customer support for considering the employees first. The tactic encourages customers who walk in the store to skip the coffee, grab a free cup of water, but still tip the workers — large.
But even customers who do buy coffee tip generously to support baristas and servers.
“It’s really wonderful having customers come in and say, ‘It’s really wonderful that you’re starting a union,’” Alguire said. “It’s very validating as a service industry worker, and I think this can speak to people even outside of the Starbucks corporation. I think it’s a really strong message that the community stands for workers’ rights.”
Two customers, Brian Rosario, 19, and David Diaz Garcia, 19, are both Swarthmore College sophomores who came to show their support for Starbucks employees at 22nd and South streets — they only bought water and juice and still tipped.
“I’ve been trying to be more active in my community,” Rosario said. “I feel like unionizing is a right that we all should have. I’m originally from New York and one of the first Starbucks to get unionized was in Buffalo. So that was a pretty big thing.”
Starbucks workers formed their first union in Buffalo in December. A Starbucks in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh became the first store in Pennsylvania to unionize in April. More than 200 Starbucks stores across the country have formed unions.
The “sip-ins” come after a summer of several Center City Starbucks stores fighting to unionize. Employees city-wide have cited refusal to allow union representation and reduced hours as reasons for going on strike and expanding union support. Many Center City Starbucks employees are receiving broad community support, including from Democratic Socialists of America, who have been among Starbucks Workers United’s strongest allies.
Sam Layding, 25, is a graduate hospital resident pursuing a doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s also a member of Philly Democratic Socialists of America and has worked alongside members of Starbucks Workers United for months.
“It’s an important fight because it’s a job that somebody’s gotta do,” he said. “The person who does that job deserves to be treated with dignity and respect by not only the people that they’re serving, but the people that are employing them.”
Layding said that most Starbucks employees he’s organized with are concerned about their future job security. He also said that while the Starbucks organization has often presented itself as “progressive,” its actions are anything but, and there’s a disconnect.
“The wages and the job security is not really commensurate with the economic situation that we’re facing as a country right now,” he said.” I think that they [Starbucks] have demonstrated that they’re not really able to respond to the needs of their workers as far as fair wages and living wages without the pressure of facing unionization.”
Philly Democratic Socialists of America board chair, Shawn Hogan, 27, said that their chapter will continue to support Starbucks Workers United in Philly to expand its impact.
“They’ve said jump in, and we’ve said, ‘How high?,’” she said. “We know what we’re good at and what we can help out with. Whatever reasons that workers want and need to organize, we’re going to be here to support them.”
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