Over a month into strike, Boston Starbucks baristas going strong
874 Commonwealth Ave. workers mark Day 30 of their strike. | Noah Siegel / People's World

BOSTON—With cupcakes and balloons on the picket line, Starbucks baristas celebrated 36 days on strike here this weekend.

“Starbucks has more money than God, they have the cops on their side, they have the state on their side, and they have not been able to open this store.” Spencer Costigan says this with intensity and pride. She works at the Starbucks at 874 Commonwealth Ave here, where workers continue the longest strike in the history of Starbucks Workers United.

Costigan told People’s World that the workers have been on site 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. “We have stopped every food delivery from coming in. The Teamsters won’t cross a picket line, so no matter what hour of the day they show up, they won’t come through because we always have people here.” That’s all it’s taken, she says, “having people here, willing to hold a sign.” Costigan says since the strike started July 18 she’s been coming down to the picket line herself at least six days a week.

The mood on the picket line at 874 CommAve (as the workers call the store) is joyous; the group is proud of how far they’ve come but frustrated by Starbucks’ refusal to come to the negotiating table.

Taylor Dickerson. | Noah Sigel / People’s World

According to another Starbucks worker, Taylor Dickerson, it’s a complicated feeling, “looking back and seeing that we’ve been going so strong and have been getting so much support—and it doesn’t seem like it’s stopping anytime soon—but it’s also like, ok, it’s been 30+ days and all we’ve heard from Starbucks is them pushing us off and not coming to the table and bargaining.” It’s super frustrating and stressful, she says, constantly wondering, “What are they planning?”

Costigan likes working at Starbucks. It’s the first job she’s ever had where she actually likes all of her co-workers. “The people that I’ve met here have been very, very kind. I like making lattes and stuff. That said, it’s not necessarily an easy job, and not really the most fulfilling, and not the best paying.”

Costigan comes from a union family. “I’ve seen just how important unions are for my family historically, and how when they’re taken away, things tend to fall apart really quickly.” So as the wave of Starbucks stores organizing swept across the country, she was inspired. When she saw that the Starbucks store up the street had unionized, she went to the first person she saw with a union pin and just asked, “Hey, can I get your information?”

Dickerson started working at 874 CommAve after the union effort had already started. “I saw the first stores that unionized in Buffalo, and I knew that Starbucks workers were sort of leading this modern-day labor movement. That pushed me to want to work here, to want to be a part of it.” Dickerson said that both of her parents were also union members. “I grew up around unions, but being here I got the opportunity to do it for myself.”

The workers at the 874 CommAve Starbucks unanimously voted to unionize June 3; by June 9, Starbucks struck back. According to Dickerson, “We were sent this new manager, which is what prompted us to strike eventually. Things went downhill pretty quickly.”

The new manager started severely cutting workers’ hours. “I want to work full time here—I’ve graduated college, this is my only job,” said Dickerson. “I was working 35 hours per week, things were going really well, I really love my co-workers and everything.”

But Dickerson said her hours were reduced to just 18 per week. The threshold for Starbucks workers to be eligible for benefits is 20 hours a week. Dickerson said that the cut in hours to just below the benefit threshold felt intentional. “That was a pretty huge red flag to begin with, and it was making life pretty hard for me.”

Dickerson said that the new manager started hiring more people. “We think she wanted to have more people work less hours so they could still keep the store open but no one could meet the benefits requirement.” That made it difficult for workers to do their jobs.

Dickerson explained: “Usually I open or close. We’d have to skip breaks, and we still couldn’t finish our tasks and handle customers at the same time. Things just were not getting cleaned the way they needed to be. It was generally a mess.” Dickerson said that the environment was frustrating and exhausting, “Especially to come in the next day and have the same thing happen, all while not getting paid enough money.”

The Starbucks Workers United ‘War Room’ attempting to contact management, to no avail. | Noah Sigel / People’s World

Costigan echoes the same points, explaining that the new manager “was threatening to fire people because they weren’t available for ‘enough’ hours.” Costigan said much of the workforce is made up of students who have really specific availability because of class schedules.

“Until she showed up, that had never been a problem. Our previous manager had been accommodating of everyone’s schedules; some folks even worked just 2 or 3 days a week. This new manager came in and said it was a company policy that everyone had to have 36 hours of availability, which is not something that had been happening prior.”

Costigan pointed out that labor law prohibits a company from unilaterally enacting such a policy change. “Any sort of change in working conditions needs to involve discussion with the union; those sort of negotiations just didn’t happen.”

New manager tears down Pride flag

There are also issues that run deeper, she notes. Two hours into her being at the store, the new manager tore down one of the Pride flags. “It was June 9, so it was the heat of Pride Month. Once Pride Month was over, she tore down another Pride flag that the whole store had wanted to keep up year-round. The majority of our store is LGBTQ+, and a lot of other stores in the area keep their Pride stuff up year-round, but she was extremely gung-ho about taking it down the minute that Pride Month ended.” This was just one incident in a pattern of homophobia, racism, and transphobia the workers cited.

To Dickerson, defending workers in these sorts of social struggles is an essential part of the labor movement. “It’s all connected, it’s an intersectional movement, and it’s gonna have to be or else we’ll be back out here in two years asking for what we couldn’t get the first time!”

At a certain point, enough was enough. Dickerson says the decision to go on strike was not something she’d originally expected. “Things just kept piling up. We’d talked about someday going on strike as a possibility when we were first unionizing, but I don’t think we originally thought we were going to go on strike weeks after those conversations!

“We talked about doing it very quickly before we actually did it. We didn’t have any experience with strikes—we’re really young, and this is really new for a lot of people across the country, honestly! We initially thought we might do just a day or a week, and then we started talking about it in a more serious way. That’s when we decided on the indefinite time frame. The thought process was basically, if we stop working for a couple days that’ll hurt them only a little bit—they’re a billion-dollar corporation—but if we actually stop and say, ‘We’re not going back until we get what we want and what we need—and what we deserve, frankly!’ Then that’s when we actually see results.”

The workers have two main demands: first, the removal of their manager; and second, at least monthly union input on their hours at the store.

Both Costigan and Dickerson are hopeful about the way things are going. Dickerson thinks, “It’s nice to be able to set this tone, to show Starbucks workers across the country that it’s possible. If we win this, it will set this amazing precedent that if you do fight for it, you’ll win it.”

Costigan says, “They’re losing thousands and thousands of dollars a day, not to mention the shitty press they’re getting, but that’s a hit they’re willing to take to make sure that labor stays under their thumb. They wanna stop us from getting a big win like this—it’s not life-changing, but it gets our foot in the door. Today we get rid of this manager and get some say in the scheduling; tomorrow, we’ll be fighting for better health care, for protections for trans people, and to ensure the right to an abortion.

Spencer Costigan. | Noah Sigel / People’s World

“It’s easy to get very jaded about politics, to get into that doomer mindset, because it just feels like everything only ever gets worse. I’d never been on strike before and I was scared to do this, but the outpouring of support—from the community, from other unions, workers at other Starbucks stores, other coffee workers, it’s given me so much hope for the future of the labor movement and the left as a whole.”

874 CommAve is still on strike indefinitely until Starbucks comes to the negotiating table. They’ve dealt with exhaustion, turbulent weather (“Honestly, Mother Nature, that’s some real anti-union behavior!” jokes Dickerson) and police intimidation, yet morale remains high. They say the best ways to support them are to donate to their strike fund or to volunteer at the picket line in Boston.

Dickerson sees this as the start of something big. “Some basic human decency is all we want! I think it’s easy to see our movement and go ‘they’re so radical!’ because that’s what people have always said about labor, but it’s always radical until it happens! Then you’re just like, ‘Oh great! I love what I have, I love my weekends!’, but you don’t think about what it took to get there! We’re just showing that this is what it’s going to take, so come join us!”

Related Stories:

> 25 days on strike at Starbucks: Interview with worker and organizer Spencer Costigan

> Boston baristas striking at five Starbucks stores hold the line

> Injunction shows NLRB fed up with Starbucks’ labor law-breaking


Noah Sigel
Noah Sigel

Noah Sigel writes from Greater Boston.