ITHACA, N.Y.—Almost 70 people gathered in Ithaca’s Collegetown on a rainy Labor Day — the federal holiday started to recognize the impacts of America’s labor movement — rallying in perhaps what has been the strongest public demonstration supporting unionized Starbucks workers in the City of Ithaca.

One former and current Starbucks worker kicked off the rally outside the corporate coffee chain’s former Collegetown location, where they laid out a brief history of the organizing efforts that led Ithaca to become the first city in the country in which all Starbucks locations had unionized, and the actions that the company they worked for has taken to allegedly bust the union. 

Starbucks has established a contentious rapport with its union stores. Contract negotiations have proceeded with just 3 of the over 200 unionized Starbucks locations, Vox reported on Aug 25. The slow progress has affected the unionized locations in Ithaca, to the backdrop of two local firings of Starbucks workers, strikes, and other demonstrations.

Starbucks Union organizer Evan Sunshine called for community members to continue the previously initiated boycott of Starbucks to pressure the company to negotiate in “good faith” with unionized workers. 

“We would like you to take the no-contract no-coffee pledge. Howard Schultz, the interim-CEO of Starbucks said he will never bargain with the union and has withheld union benefits from union baristas,” Sunshine said. 

A rallier marches in support of the Starbucks Workers United on Labor Day. Credit: Dove Williams / The Ithaca Voice

Sunshine is referring to comments from Schultz, who is serving as interim CEO of Starbucks until April 2023, from an interview between him and The New York Times. Schultz answered “No,” when asked if he would embrace the union as part of a vision to build trust with the company’s workers, later adding that a “third party” would challenge the quality of the customer experience Starbucks aims to achieve.

The Starbucks Union is arguing these comments from Schultz broke the laws that require the company to bargain in good faith with the union. Starbucks is facing a number of separate charges and complaints, including a complaint of noncooperation over contract negotiations from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that oversees and enforces labor law.

Other speakers at the Ithaca rally included New York State Assemblymember Anna Kelles, 52nd State Senate candidate Lea Webb, and Ithaca mayoral candidate Katie Sims. They, and others, took the stage to stress the growing wealth inequality of the United States, and the importance unions can play in driving profits toward workers and away from shareholders and the executive class.

The rally moved into a parade, with a large portion of the ralliers marching along the right side of the road — though not Webb or Kelles — from the former Starbucks location at 402 College Avenue down to the Commons Starbucks location at 130 E. Seneca St. 

A route of the parade taken from Collegetown to Downtown Ithaca by ralliers on Labor Day. Credit: Google Maps

Organizers failed to acquire the necessary permits from the City of Ithaca for the event, which featured on its promotional material the logos of the Democratic Socialists of America, the NY Working Families Party, and the Starbucks Workers United Ithaca.

Officials from the City of Ithaca did not respond to a request for comment on the parade’s permitting.

Stephanie Heslop, chair of the Tompkins County Working Families Party and a Starbucks barista that helped organize the rally and parade provided the following statement after The Voice asked her to speak to the lack of permitting:

“We’re really grateful that so many people showed up with so much energy to march on a rainy Monday. Labor Day gives people around the country a reason to get into the streets in celebration of the labor rights our ancestors fought to win, and that we fight today to protect,” she said. “It’s beautiful that the Starbucks workers and other local unions brought that joy to Ithaca.”

At the Seneca Street location, ralliers formed a long line outside Starbucks door for the proceeding of a “sip-in.”

It being Labor Day, a person that identified themselves as a manager at the Starbucks location told reporters that, “I thought something like this might happen.”

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn