Québec’s First Unionized Starbucks

Québec City, July 14, 2009—On Monday morning, the Starbucks Worker’s Union, which is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), submitted a request for union certification to Commision des relations de travail to represent the employees of the Germain-des-Prés Starbucks, in the borough of Ste-Foy, in Québec City. Recent changes to how the work schedule is managed and new requirements regarding employee availability convinced the fifteen baristas—mostly students—to unite and defend their interests before an inflexible and arrogant employer.

“Starbucks is sort of the McDonald’s of the coffee world. They offer low pay and little job security, but until now, at least our work hours were flexible, which was great for students working part-time,” states union member Simon Gosselin, adding “Our union was formed mainly to fight a clause that requires shift supervisors to work a minimum of 24 hours a week and baristas to work at least 16 hours. This is a terrible change. Because of it, the 6 current shift supervisors will be demoted and they’ll take a 10% pay cut and lose their benefits.”

Since 2004, Starbucks has been the target of an organization campaign led by the IWW, an alternative union mainly active in the United States, but also in Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. “Starbucks claims to be a socially responsible employer that respects communities and contributes to economic development,” states IWW spokesman Mathieu Jean. “But with its unsteady and poorly-paid jobs and frequent infringements of workplace safety standards, Starbucks has more of a tendency to impoverish communities and lower working conditions.”

Despite the multinational coffee company’s lofty social claims, it has been found guilty of violating its employee’s union rights 17 times in the city of Minneapolis alone and has been condemned for anti-union activity by the National Labor Relation Board, an American government organization. Last December in New York, the company was found guilty on 30 similar counts. Many other similar cases are pending.

“We have no intention of being intimidated. If Starbucks wants to play hardball, we’re ready for them.” states Jean. “But we believe this is an opportunity for the company to prove that its claims of social responsibility are more than just a lot of talk. The ball’s in their court.”

-30 –
Andrew Fletcher