GUEST ROOM | The Case for Keeping Labor in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations

The yawning gap between the industrial democracy of ILR’s embryonic years and today’s landscape of corporate tyranny reflects a systematic crusade against organized labor. Politicians and private-sector actors have worked together to expand poverty and stifle democracy  — all the while siphoning egregious sums of wealth to the already-egregiously wealthy. High-profile strikes made 2022 an exciting year for labor, but the share of workers in a union was the lowest on record, a fact that should profoundly disturb anyone who cares about poverty, inequality or justice. 

“No Contract, No Coffee”: Ithaca Starbucks Workers Organize Labor Day Rally

On a drizzly Labor Day morning, students, community leaders and Ithaca residents gathered on College Avenue for a rally hosted by Starbucks Workers United in support of the Ithaca Starbucks’ efforts to unionize. 

In April 2022, Ithaca became the first city in the United States to unionize all Starbucks locations. The movement was sparked in August 2021 by actions in nearby Buffalo, New York where workers voted to unionize the first Starbucks in the country. 

Ithaca workers were motivated to unionize in October 2021, but in June 2022, management closed the Collegetown location, claiming that it made little sense to continue operating with ongoing issues regarding the condition of the store. The workers claim this was in retaliation for their unionization. Taking place in front of the now-closed Collegetown Starbucks, the crowd included members of SBWU, members of the Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America and the Ithaca Tenants Union. The rally featured speeches from Ithaca Starbucks workers and community leaders and was followed by a parade from College Avenue to Ithaca Commons. 

In his speech, Evan Sunshine ’24, a former Collegetown Starbucks employee and SBWU organizer, noted that the College Avenue workers took action in October 2021 when their manager was forced to quit due to poor working conditions involving upper management. 

Sunshine and his coworkers learned of Stephanie Heslop, a worker at the Starbucks on Ithaca Commons, and became aware of her efforts to unionize the store.