The singing and speeches had ended and the crowd had mostly drifted away, but the energy seemed to linger at the corner of Sixth Street and Penn Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh early Monday afternoon. Eric Shorthouse could still feel it.

All of those people had shown up for Shorthouse and his fellow Starbucks workers who labor at the small cafe situated the southwest corner of the intersection. Those workers — 14 of them — will vote on Wednesday whether to join Starbucks Workers United. If they do, they’ll be the 400th Starbucks store to do so.

“This was truly amazing,” Shorthouse said. “Honestly, when we started talking about unionizing, I thought, ‘It’s just our rinky-dink store.’ But to see how much support there is with Starbucks Workers United and then the other unions coming out and supporting us,  it means a lot.”

Monday’s action began a little after 1 p.m., with a crowd of union members marching west on Penn Avenue. As they approached Sixth Street, you could hear them chanting, “Get up, get down, Pittsburgh is a union town.” These were members of the United Steelworkers union, in town for the 2024 International Next Generation Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and the Westin Hotel. They represent locals from throughout the United States and Canada, and they’d decided to use their lunch break to show their solidarity with the Starbucks employees.

On Sixth Street, people lined the sidewalk next to the Starbucks cafe and spilled into the street. There, they listened to a brief remarks from Shorthouse and other union organizers.

Edwin Everhart seems to levitate as he leads union members and supporters in “There Is Power in a Union.” (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Then, Edwin Everhart and a few members of the Pittsburgh Labor Choir took over. These folks are a ubiquitous presence at the city’s union events. They first led everyone in singing “Roll the Union On,” but it was the second song, “There Is Power in a Union,” that seemed to ignite the crowd. Folks clapped along and whooped it up.

And then, after 20 minutes, the rally ended with the steelworkers and other union members chanting once again, “Pittsburgh is a union town.” It was a message those working inside the cafe could certainly hear. They have an opportunity Wednesday to once again prove the city’s commitment to organized labor.

One supporter shows solidarity with organizing Starbucks workers during a rally in Downtown Pittsburgh on Monday, March 4, 2024. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

“I’m optimistic,” said Shorthouse, 28. “Things have really clicked. People are excited. They realize what we stand to gain if we’re unionized.”

He’s been an employee at Starbucks for eight years, and in that time he says working conditions have steadily declined. “I know that trend is not going to stop unless we do something about it,” he said.

One major issue is that employee hours are being cut, Shorthouse said.

“They don’t care if you have enough hours to make ends meet anymore,” he said. “I was just talking to my boss today, and he said he sees this more as a second job for us, or a job people do part time to get benefits. I said, ‘So you’re only providing half a job? If that’s your philosophy, no wonder people are struggling.’”

USW member Darrell Roberson, center, from Local 1999 in Indianapolis, joins others in singing “There Is Power in a Union.” (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Employees are under a lot of pressure to be more productive, he said. Some customers enter the cafe and order drinks at the counter, some order drinks through a mobile app, and still others order drinks for delivery by services such as DoorDash or UberEats. “We have the same amount of people who are expected to deal with all these orders — fewer, since recently they’ve been cutting hours,” Shorthouse said.

The result: overworked employees and customers asking why their drinks aren’t ready.

“People are wondering, ‘Where’s my drink?’ Well, Starbucks deemed it fit to put one person behind the bar today. It screws us and the customers, all in the name of squeezing the last penny out of their labor force.”

Here are a few highlights from the rally, in photographs and quotes:

Starbucks worker and organizer Tori Tambellini. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Every single worker should have a voice on the job through a union, and we will not stop fighting until we have a contract.

— Starbucks organizer and worker Tori Tambellini

Striking Post-Gazette worker Andrew Goldstein. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

You guys have been on the picket line with us from day one. You guys have been there in the rain, in the snow, in the sleet, when we’ve had to picket overnight at our production facilities, you guys have been there. And that’s the type of solidarity that we are never going to forget. You have inspired millions of people around this country and around the world. It is truly remarkable what you guys have done.

— Striking Post-Gazette reporter Andrew Goldstein,
addressing unionized Starbucks workers

An exuberant Noah Ledesma belts out a song while joining his USW colleagues in a display of solidarity with Starbucks workers. Ledesma is with USW Local 12-52 in Tehachapi, CA. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)
This is Ledesma again, springing into action to lead the crowd in a solidarity song to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at

Steve Mellon

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at