Friday, July 9, 2010

Organizing In The Retail Sector: Starbucks

I live in Washington, DC. There is a spot in Dupont Circle where you can actually see three Starbucks simultaneously. There are approximately 11,000 Starbucks locations in the United States, which with an average of 7 employees in each store, would equal about 75,000 employees in the US, out of the 142,000 total employees worldwide.
While there is an existing upstart Starbucks Workers Union, it has not attracted much of a following outside of New York and Chicago. The main reason for this is that they are affiliated with the IWW(Industrial Workers of the World) which according to its own estimates, currently has around 900 members in good standing. While I support rank-and-file unions in general, and I support what the IWW does most of the time, I believe that it will take significant resources in order to organize Starbucks employees in the Unites States. Here is why:

1. Starbucks does not franchise.

Because of this, there will pretty much need to be an all out blitz across the nation. This would take an army of organizers and volunteers. The IWW simply does not have the resources to accomplish a campaign of this magnitude, and unfortunately, many Starbucks employees would balk at the dues rates of the UFCW, who is big enough to do it.

2. Starbucks has the money to launch a serious union-busting campaign.
Given the fact that organizing Starbucks would likely have to be a national campaign, it would give the corporation the time to coordinate a massive union-busting effort. A lot of employees would probably get fired in the process, and high turnover rates would make the job even more difficult.

I think that Starbucks can be organized, but it will take an effort that will require significant cooperation from various labor organizations that frankly, do not have a good history of working together.

In the meantime, why not donate to the SWU(Starbucks Workers Union) ? They have been fighting this battle for six years, and could use all the help they can get.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Organizing In The Retail Sector: Pizza Delivery

When you look at union membership in the retail sector(or the lack thereof), it's striking how many retail and food industries are completely unorganized across the board.

Most labor unions are unwilling to devote the time and resources needed to organize workers in low paying jobs in the retail and food service industries. Their reasons vary from the high turnover rate, to the small bargaining unit in some fast food stores, to the fact that low income workers will have lower dues. While some of this reasoning makes sense, especially with the turnover rate with younger workers, ignoring entire industries is a failed strategy in my opinion.

In the next few entries, I will explore some of these industries, and whether union organization is feasible. The first industry I will look at is Pizza Delivery.

There have been two major efforts to organize this industry in the past. The first was an organization I was involved with, the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers(APDD), lost an organizing campaign by one vote in Nebraska. The APDD subsequently ran out of money, and is now a distant memory.

The 2nd was run by a Domino's driver named Jim Pohle, who founded the American Union of Pizza Delivery Drivers(AUPDD). He successfully ran an organizing campaign and won a NLRB vote in Florida. Unfortunately, like 2/3 of workers who vote in favor of union representation, they never could get the owner of the Domino's franchise to negotiate a contract. Jim eventually ran out of money and merged his upstart union with the Amalgamated Transit Union(ATU) who promptly forgot about him. As a result, the AUPDD is now defunct.

I still think that the pizza delivery industry is ripe for union organization. There are an estimated 10k big 3(Domino's Papa John's, Pizza Hut)stores in the United States. Pizza drivers are already inoculated against management, as they have been getting screwed by them for years. With tip credit laws that are lowering hourly wages to sub-minimum wage, and lackluster mileage compensation, the vast majority of drivers are supportive of the idea of unionization.

Unfortunately, most labor organizations that have been contacted by pizza delivery drivers have been dismissive or completely unresponsive. One driver I know already have several signed cards in hand, and was flatly turned down by an organizer for the UFCW. This kind of attitude must be changed if the labor movement wants to start winning over the unorganized.

This industry could be organized if a dedicated(Unite Here! anyone?) union takes the strategy of organizing the biggest franchises first. There are franchises in each of the Big 3 that have over 100 stores. There is also a dedicated base of career drivers that are willing to jump in on the front lines if there is an effort with some legitimacy.

That is the key. Legitimacy.