There are now union drives at more than 300 Starbucks cafes across the country. How did a campaign that started in Buffalo, New York, get so big, so fast?

By Saurav Sarkar, The Progressive Magazine

The recent wave of Starbucks workers seeking to join a union shares many characteristics of a mass movement.

With union drives now reaching more than 300 Starbucks stores across the country, organizers are grappling with questions of national structure and tactics. But the organizing push wasn’t always envisioned as a countrywide campaign.

A Starbucks store facade

“[We weren’t] initially looking at Starbucks as a national project but as a geographic upstate New York restaurant [one],” says Richard Bensinger, an organizer with Workers United and senior adviser on the Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) campaign.

To understand how the union shepherded SBWU into being, one needs to go back to Ithaca, New York, in 2017. There, Workers United—an 86,000 member affiliate of the Service Employees International Union—got its start in the coffee industry, organizing a small chain called Gimme! Coffee.

“Our union represents food service and hospitality, but we hadn’t represented baristas until Gimme! Coffee,” explains Gary Bonadonna, the elected leader of Worker United’s Rochester, New York, branch.

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