Several former workers at Beverage Plus and their supporters visited the company in Maspeth Queens this week to demand that the owner Yun Cho pay the more than $1.2 million owed to the workers from a wage theft lawsuit. Cho was present but did not come out to talk to the workers who then left a letter demanding payment. The company, which has also operated under the names YS Beverage and Grand Beverage, is a distributor in New York City, handling products such as Coca Cola and Poland Spring beverages. It was found liable in 2012 for multiple violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act for unpaid minimum wage and overtime for dozens of workers. The workers are still seeking the payments in court but have also called upon supporters to join their campaign to get the money owed to them. The workers have been long time members of the Brandworkers and NYC Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) campaign to organize and improve conditions in New York City’s food production and distribution sector.
Behind the Line
The day after Starbucks workers met at the Bat Cave we found ourselves working an understaffed morning shift but this time it was different. Instead of feeling the normal frustration, those of us who were at the meeting exchanged knowing glances and began implementing our plan of following every rule, thereby slowing down service. We also whispered to partners who were not in the know to slow down, don’t kill yourself. It was as if everyone took a deep breath and began working at a safe and thorough pace. The effects were instant. The speed of service dropped immediately. We ran out of brewed coffee because we were only brewing when the beeper signaled it was time. Everyone stayed in the positions they were assigned and acted only at the directions of the Store Manager. Every 10 minutes when someone was assigned to clean the lobby, we did a thorough job, ensuring everything was clean and properly stocked. Every drink and food order was perfect.
The Bat Cave
Word of our Starbucks Store Manager, Dan, throwing a binder at an employee spread through the store like wild fire. Everyone was furious. We have tolerated inconsistent scheduling, low wages, on going verbal abuse and much more, this, however, was the last straw. We decided it was time to meet up. Enrico- a 61 year old Puerto Rican busser, Anna-a 25 year old Puerto Rican woman, Gabrielle-a 19 year old Jamaican nursing student, Alejandro- a 22 year old Dominican, Sam-a 23 year old Columbian, Thomas-a 27 year old Texan and I, a 28 year old woman from Kansas decided to meet up Tuesday after our morning shift and figure out a way to fix the problems in the store. We met at a bar down the street from work. The spot has dozens of empty pool tables and cheap drinks before 7pm, which is perfect for a group of people who are all up at 3 or 4am for work. We started frequenting this spot as a place to go and vent about work. The bartenders are all very nice and often look the other way if we don’t order any drinks and just hang out on the overstuffed couch for an hour or two after a rough shift. We started calling our spot
“the Bat Cave” as we secretly spoke about ways we could take back power at work and make our jobs better. Today at the Bat Cave we pulled two tables together and Gabrielle took notes. We all decided we had had enough and it was time to take action. The group came to the conclusion to use two tactics at the same time to pressure Starbucks to fire or transfer Dan but also to immediately resolve the issue of being understaffed.
The Match That Started the Fire
Weekends are notoriously crazy for a Starbucks barista. These are the days when people have time to vent their frustrations from the previous workweek on some unsuspecting worker. Customers come in with their screaming children, busloads of tourists struggle to understand why a small drink would be called “tall”, and the stores themselves are almost always understaffed to handle the demand. It is therefore fitting that it was Sunday when an event triggered Starbucks baristas to engage in a clever power play to make work conditions better.