Despite the very small number of workers involved, the Starbucks store in Buffalo, NY made history Dec. 9 when it became the first one in the Starbucks chain to vote to unionize. The workers voted 19-8 to be represented by Workers United in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

Starbucks, the biggest coffee seller in the world, operates nearly 10,000 stores in the United States. It has waged a relentless war on union organizing attempts in Buffalo, closing some stores, and packing the others with new workers who, they hoped, would outvote the pro-union employees there. To counter the union organizing drive they sent in managers and executives to intimidate workers who have been complaining for years about the understaffing, chaotic conditions, restrictions on sick days, low pay and erratic hours.

Although the number of workers is small, the election is significant because it could mark a significant boost in the unionization of other Starbucks stores and among restaurant workers who are the least unionized workers in the country.

Robert Reich newsletter;  NY Times, 12/9;  Vox, 12/9;  AP News, 12/9

With the singing of “Solidarity Forever” occasionally ringing out on their picket line, some 3,000 graduate school workers at Columbia University are on strike in their quest to obtain a fair contact. As many of the university’s faculty members walked out of their classes in a show of support on Dec. 6, the strikers are calling on others to help them shut down the university by not crossing their picket line.

The strike, in its fifth week as of the beginning of December, is the second one this year by the student workers at Columbia. It is currently the largest one in the country at this time. At issue is the workers demand for cost-of-living raises, healthcare that includes vision and dental benefits, and protections against discrimination and sexual harassment. The graduate school workers teach classes, serve as teaching and research assistants, and perform duties, at much reduced pay and benefits, that many of the professors would ordinarily do. They are represented by the Student Workers of Columbia, United Auto Workers Local 2110.

Taking on the perception that the strikers are just students and not workers, Paul Brown, a Local 2110 organizer at Columbia, called on he university to “respect the labor that we put into this institution.”

The strike comes as many universities in recent years have increasingly relied on grad student workers rather than tenured professors to teach classes, thus reducing the cost to the university. “We are the ones who do the research that wins grant money for the university,” said Johannah King-Slutzky, one of the strikers in an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. “I teach my own class. Many of my colleagues teach the same classes that a professor would teach. We’re the ones who have the most face-time with the undergraduates who are paying Columbia’s bills, paying tuition.”

The school has responded with heavy-handed attempts to break the strike. The latest is an email from its Vice President of Human Resources to the strikers that if they do not return to work by Dec. 10 they will be terminated and replaced. Branding it “an illegal form of retaliation,” King-Slutzky pointed out that it is “an unfair labor practice (that) protects us from our labor being permanently replaced.”



In a stunning upset that reflects the growing militancy of workers and union members, a rank-and-file slate swept to victory in Teamster Union elections last month. The Teamsters United slate routed the incumbent slate that has ruled the union for years by a margin of about two-to-one. The incumbent backed slate had the backing of James P. Hoffa who is retiring. Hoffa has headed the union since 1998.

Defying Hoffa and his slate, the Teamsters United slate captured all national offices, from president down to a majority of the international executive board. Heading the slate, to take office in March, is the President-elect Sean O’Brien, currently President of Boston Local 25 and General Secretary-elect Fred Zuckerman, currently President of Louisville, Kentucky Local 89. They will serve five-year terms.

O’Brien has been sharply critical of the current contract with United Parcel Service and has vowed a campaign to take a more militant stand on future contracts with the company. He is also committed to a full-fledged campaign to organize Amazon drivers.

The vote signals a growing sentiment in the union movement that are fed-up with contracts that  have left millions of workers behind while corporate profits soar.

NY Times, 11/19; Labor Notes, 11/18; Teamsters for a Democratic Union website

We link below to the newspaper of two international unions, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE) and the United Auto Workers,  listing their accomplishments this past year. We will be linking to other union newspapers from time to time.;