Strikes were so ubiquitous earlier this year that people referred to the season as the “Hot Labor Summer.” At the same time, public support for labor unions was extremely high, with 67% of Americans expressing union approval in an August survey.
Striking unions, including the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Writers Guild of America, Kaiser Permanente, United Auto Workers, UPS Teamsters and Starbucks Workers United (SWU), have attracted national attention. They are paving the way for laborers to be fairly compensated, operate under safe working conditions, receive equitable breaks for long hours and retain job security in the face of globalizing industry and rapid technological advancement.
Although many of these labor advocacy groups have reached tentative agreements with their respective companies, Starbucks has consistently fallen short in its union negotiations. And the reason why is that there have been none.
The first Starbucks workers voted to unionize in Buffalo, N.Y in Dec. 2021. In a 19-8 vote, employees from that store, including baristas and supervisors, voted to join SWU, the union representing Starbucks workers. Pro-union workers cited demands of better staffing, training and steady wage increases as their reasoning.
SWU has filed hundreds of unfair labor practice charges against the chain with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). As of August, Starbucks had lost 22 cases before the NLRB, whose judges ruled that Starbucks has illegally fired, disciplined and threatened workers for engaging in union activity.
It is easy to feel as though this wave of strikes is isolated to the automotive industry and Hollywood. However, universities across the country are directly implicated in the labor rights movement because of their relationships with Starbucks.
Through retail arrangements, store locations and products sold on U.S. higher education campuses, Starbucks markets directly to university students, aiming to foster lifelong brand loyalty habits in college-aged consumers. In addition to the location in the Leavey Center –– a licensing agreement maintained between Aramark, Georgetown’s food service provider, and Starbucks –– the university owns 49,957 shares in the company that are valued at $4,948,740, according to an Aug. 2023 filing by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Through the Leavey Center storefront and the Starbucks shares that the university holds, Georgetown serves as a key source of revenue for a company that has committed “egregious and widespread” violations of labor law and has shown “a general disregard for the employee’s fundamental rights,” according to Federal Administrative Law Judge Michael Rosas.
As a result, the money that our community members spend on both tuition and frappuccinos directly funds a company that has been proven to care little about the health and well-being of its unionized employees.
It is critical to note that the movement extends beyond Georgetown. Students at universities across the United States have also urged their administrations to cut ties with the chain as a result of their labor law violations. Cornell University has led the charge, announcing Aug. 16 that it will not renew its contract with the chain once it ends and will stop serving Starbucks at dining facilities.
In recent weeks, Starbucks has also come under fire for suing its union for trademark infringement after SWU uploaded a social media post in solidarity with the people of Palestine.
Bringing the fight for labor to the Hilltop, students, staff and community members are urging Georgetown to sever ties with this union-busting company.
Inspired by the advocacy of students at Cornell and the history of student-worker solidarity on campus led by groups like the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, Georgetown Coalition for Workers’ Rights (GCWR) and the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), the Georgetown Students Against Starbucks was formed at the beginning of this semester.
The group went public with its petition Oct. 10. The petition urges Georgetown’s administration to terminate Aramark’s licensing agreement, bring in an alternate coffee supplier to the Leavey Center and completely divest from the chain.
Our Starbucks on campus is a franchise operated by Aramark; therefore, the workers at the Leavey Center are Aramark employees. Thus, they are represented by UNITE HERE Local 23, just like all food service employees at Georgetown. It is only because of this licensing agreement that the workers at our Starbucks location have a fair union contract. We believe that Starbucks workers across the nation should have this very same opportunity to organize and collectively bargain with their employers.
As of Nov. 16, the Georgetown Students Against Starbucks petition to President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) has amassed over 500 signatures. On-campus organizations such as the Georgetown College Democrats, GCWR, YSDA, Georgetown Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace Georgetown have all signed on.
As a result, the onus falls on all of us — as community members — to demand better from our administration.
Georgetown must completely sever its ties with Starbucks.
We call for the administration to end Aramark’s licensing agreement with Starbucks and invite an alternative coffee supplier to occupy the existing storefront in the Leavey Center. It is imperative that no changes occur to the payment, staffing, benefits or hours for the Aramark employees currently working at our Starbucks and that they can be transferred to alternate food service locations on campus. In addition, we call for the administration to completely divest in Starbucks stock.
When our tuition dollars actively fund a company that has refused to recognize the fundamental rights of its workers to organize and collectively bargain, we play an active role in condoning, supporting and endorsing union-busting actions. We believe this is unacceptable.
As a Jesuit institution with a demonstrated commitment to a “profound care for the whole person and their unique circumstances,” we must include workers in that care — otherwise it is meaningless.
Olivia Mason is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and Fiona Naughton is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.
Correction: A previous version of this article claimed that SWU urged buyers to boycott Starbucks, which does not accurately represent the views of the union.