Starbucks employees, Harvard workers, and students joined together on Friday to protest a talk by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who spoke at Harvard Business School about his experiences running the international coffeehouse chain as well as about his new book, “Onward.”
The protesters gathered to call for better working conditions at Starbucks, which the National Labor Relations Board—a federal agency charged with investigating unfair labor practices—has found to have wrongfully terminated employees and violated labor laws.
The protest, which took place outside of Spangler Auditorium at the Business School, was organized by members of the Starbucks Workers Union (SWU), who said they felt it was necessary to rally in order to expose Harvard students to the controversy regarding Schultz.
“We were showing the opposite voice [and] revealing the truth,” said Starbucks barista and rally organizer Anja Witek, who said she flew from her home in Minnesota to attend the event.
Organizers estimated that 25 to 30 individuals came out to protest Schultz’s talk. During the protest, several Starbucks employees shared their experiences with the crowd, alleging instances of spying and union busting and claiming they had faced pressure against union membership.
“They tell [workers] there is no such thing as a Starbucks union,” Witek said. “That is just simply not true.”
Beyond sharing their individual experiences, speakers at the event criticized Schultz for his refusal to meet with the SWU. Several speakers claimed that he was actively avoiding union members in order to avoid any sort of negotiations.
“This is a man worth $1.1 billion, and he’s running away from low-wage workers,” said Starbucks barista and union organizer Liberté Locke. Locke and others called for Schultz to face the workers he is allegedly mistreating instead of presenting his company as labor-friendly.
Organizers of the event—as well as several workers and students in attendance—said they thought the protest was successful in bringing attention to the accusations of poor working conditions at Starbucks.
“Howard definitely heard us,” Witek said of the rally, adding that “students came out from the lecture and said that they had heard us.”
Anna J. Murphy ’12, who was among the protesters, also called the rally a success.
“The event was to put pressure on [Schultz], to embarrass him, to make people going to this event see that whatever claims Schultz is making in his book, really, he is afraid,” Murphy said.
Geoff Carens, an assistant librarian and member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, said he came out to the protest in order to show solidarity with his fellow workers.
— Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.