“NO CHAI TEA … TILL YOU UNIONIZE ME!”
“STRONG COFFEE … STRONG UNION!””
Those were two of the loud chants that echoed across Downtown Friday morning as a band of United Steelworkers union organizers and members and other supporters — they clearly had their morning caffeine — marched from the Steelworkers building on the Boulevard of the Allies, across Stanwix Street and up Penn Avenue to the Starbucks store at Sixth Street.
The group, at its peak at least 80 strong, rallied on that corner for about a half-hour in support of workers at the coffee company who are fighting to form unions and achieve fair contracts across North America.
“Everybody deserves a living wage, whatever you do,” USW activist Gabriel Pulido said over the bullhorn to cheers.
The rally was the culmination of a weeklong USW Level 4 leadership development program in Pittsburgh for about 30 activists from all over. Many wore green aprons like Starbucks baristas do. Joshua Block of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, carried a trash can decorated to look like a giant coffee cup overflowing with Starbucks billions of dollars of profits.
“My theory is a worker is a worker,” said the president of his USW local at an Anchor Glass Container Corp. factory. “Everybody deserves a fair shake.”
Jeff Plummer — an electrician from USW District 10 in Tire Hill, Somerset County — says the course has helped the Steelworkers “build a family.” Through the program, he’s learned to be a better union leader, sharing organizing techniques and educating workers including at Starbucks.
Together, they sang and chanted:
“MAKE MY BARISTA … MY UNION SISTA’!”
“NO COLD BREW … TILL WE BARGAIN WITH YOU.”
Fellow leadership student Jason Prokopchuk came all the way from USW District 3 in Western Canada, where Starbucks workers have managed to get their first union contracts. He hopes the rally will help to “ensure that Starbucks recognizes the importance of allowing their workers the right to organize a good union.”
With Starbucks in particular, Prokopchuk points to the hypocrisy at play, noting that while the company calls its employees partners with shared values, engaging union-busting techniques diminishes those values.
Prokopchuk added that it’s “very empowering” to have this leadership experience, and to see the solidarity in Pittsburgh from all different kinds of union workers and community members.
Taking his turn at the megaphone, Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh Unit Chair Andrew Goldstein amplified the “we’re all in the same fight” theme. He vowed that he and his fellow striking news workers, who have been on strike at the Post-Gazette for 10 months, appreciate and will continue to reciprocate the support that the Starbucks workers and Steelworkers and others have shown them.
“The most important thing we can do is be out here and hold the line,” Goldstein said, having to pause repeatedly as passing drivers and riders (including on a double-decker tour bus) honked and shouted in support.
Goldstein quipped, “So much solidarity, it’s hard to get a word in.”