Victoria Conklin hopped in a car at 5 a.m. Monday and drove three hours from her Buffalo, N.Y., home to Pittsburgh so she could gather on Liberty Avenue with local Starbucks workers who, like her, say they’re standing up to a wealthy company that wants to destroy a budding union movement.
By 9:30, she was leading chants in front of the William S. Moorhead Federal Building.
“We pull the shots!” she called out as snow blew around her.
“We call the shots!”responded a crowd of baristas and supporters.
Conklin, 25, made the trip with two fellow Buffalo baristas, who’d also been fired by Starbucks, to stand with fired Pittsburgh Starbucks workers on the first day of an unfair labor practices hearing to address a complaint issued against the coffee company by the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint focuses on what it calls the coffee company’s union-busting tactics at four Pittsburgh-area stores.
“I’m so excited for all of the Pittsburgh workers here … to get the justice that they deserve,” Conklin told the crowd, “and for Starbucks to stop firing us, to stop punishing us for asking for a union.”
Conklin was fired six days after her Buffalo Starbucks store voted to unionize — an effort she helped lead. She’d worked for the company for five years. “I was fired on June 22nd of this year for being late once,” she said.
Among those in the crowd were Pittsburgh-area baristas who’d joined the unionizing effort here, only to suffer the same fate as Conklin. Supporters included Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council; state Rep. Sara Innamorato; and members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, who have been on strike against the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since mid-October.
“It means something to us to show up for each other and to send a message to the company,” Conklin said. “When they fire us, their goal is to isolate us, to rip us away from our shop, from our friends. We’re sending a message to the company that we’re all standing together. You can pull us out of your shops, but we’ll be back … we’ll have each other.”
Starbucks Workers United organizer Phil Halin said the Pittsburgh trial will continue this week, take a week off, then resume the following week. A decision could be rendered in February, he said.
“We appreciate so much your support,” he said to those attending the rally. “It’s a beautiful thing in Pittsburgh, which is a city that has organized labor in its blood. And then the folks from Buffalo coming down … it’s national solidarity, and that’s how we’re gonna win this.”
Starbucks has said in the past the complaint is without merit, and that the company intends to defend itself.
Conklin realizes she and her colleagues are the tip of a national organizing movement, which can seem “kind of weird.”
“We’re not just organizing one store in Buffalo or one store in Pittsburgh or one store in Memphis,” she said. “We’re holding a billionaire accountable for his actions. When you really think about it, it’s amazing. And it sends me into an existential crisis sometimes, but it’s really empowering to think about.”