With seven years of experience as a barista, Sarah Broad knows how to make all kinds of coffee.
Now the Starbucks worker also knows what it feels like to be a union member and the face of a growing campaign by the United Steelworkers (USW) to unionize Starbucks stores in Canada.
“I never realized how passionate I would feel about the labour movement,” said Broad in an interview from her basement apartment in Victoria, B.C.
Broad, a shift supervisor at a Victoria location, helped organize her store in August 2020, the only one in Canada at the time. She’s one of a number of service industry and retail workers in North America joining the labour movement since the start of the pandemic.
The surge in interest has some labour leaders and experts wondering if this moment could mark a turning point for unions who have seen declining numbers in the sector for years.
In addition to efforts to unionize Amazon warehouses, in the U.S there are efforts to bring unions into Apple stores and Trader Joe’s. In Canada there’s been a successful campaign to organize a handful of Indigo locations and a PetSmart store.
A recent poll in the U.S. showed 68 per cent of Americans approved of labour unions, the highest number since 1965.
“I think this could be a watershed movement for Canadian and U.S. unions,” said Nicole Denier, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton who studies unions.
“We’ll see over the next year whether or not the momentum will continue to build.”
WATCH | Workers trying to unionize hundreds of Starbucks stores:
Baristas battle iconic brand
Starbucks is facing a wave of union drives.
An online tracker and map based on numbers from the U.S. National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) shows about 300 Starbucks shops in the U.S have filed to unionize in just six months, including the flagship roastery in the company’s hometown of Seattle. According to the tracker, run by a non-profit media organization that focuses on labour stories, more than half have been certified.
Broad says health and safety issues related to the pandemic, abusive customers and the high cost of living In Victoria made her and her coworkers seek union representation to make their working conditions better and improve their wages.
While the process was “a little intimidating,” she said that getting workers onboard in her store didn’t take long because most were “super gung-ho.”
It took a little over a month to get the store’s union certified under B.C. law, but took almost a year to negotiate a collective agreement with Starbucks Canada.
For USW it will be expensive to organize and support many small locations one at a time compared to organizing large factories, lumber mills or offices. But the small bargaining units are not the only challenge in organizing the service and retail sectors.
“The major issue is turnover in employees. It’s a younger, transient workforce,” said Mike Duhra, a USW representative for Western Canada.
Another factor, says Duhra, is that unions are so rare in the sector that some workers just aren’t familiar with them or don’t recognize how they can help.
Company executives have visited stores to discourage workers from unionizing in the U.S., and workers claim one location was shut down earlier this month because it recently unionized.
Starbucks announced company-wide enhanced benefits and wage increases in May, but they’re not being offered to workers in unionized stores in the U.S. or Canada.
A spokesperson for Starbucks Canada told CBC News the company believes it is better without a union, but it continues to “respect our partners’ right to organize.”
In addition, wage increases are not being offered to the unionized location in Victoria because it has “its own collective agreement, including its own unique wage increase schedule.”
Broad believes the unionized stores aren’t getting a raise because “they’re just trying to make us look bad and retaliate against us for unionizing.”
Economic conditions primed for union growth
Mikal Skuterud, an economist at the University of Waterloo, says the current tight labour market and high inflation both favour union growth.
“Unionization rates are procyclical,” says Skuterud, “so when the economy goes into a boom, unionization rates tend to go up.”
According to the NLRB, applications to start unions in U.S. workplaces are up 57 per cent this year compared to the first six months of 2021.
Equivalent data about union organizing in Canada is not available but Bea Bruske, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress said “we are seeing growing momentum in Canada towards unionization, especially amongst young workers.”
Even so, Skuterud says unions in the private sector in Canada could desperately use a boost.
“Unionization rates, particularly in the private sector, are the lowest they’ve ever been.”
USW’s Duhra says unions are indeed looking to move into new sectors for growth.
“We have to find new members … and this is a perfect industry where people need a union,” he said, adding that workers at Starbucks came to USW for help.
Will the momentum last?
Lawyer and professor Kenneth Thornicroft from the University of Victoria is skeptical that Starbucks will become a highly unionized company.
“Unless a union is able to get pretty deep penetration across the store network,” he said, Starbucks “can just wait them out,” and as members get tired of paying dues, stores will decertify.
Thornicroft points out that’s exactly how it played out when a handful of BC stores unionized in the 1990’s.
He believes unions might have a better opportunity for growth in the banking and financial services sector than in food service.
But Denier thinks the retail and food sectors are ripe for unionization because both industries have long been under-unionized.
In her view, workers aren’t just committed to getting better wages “but to having a voice in the workplace.”
She adds that workers are also focused on making companies that market themselves as progressive accountable for their public image.
For her part, the new union activist Sarah Broad is eagerly serving up advice and support to potential barista brothers and sisters trying to organize other stores.
“I’m so excited that they’re wanting to join and it’s going to be challenging,” she said, “but it’s so worth it.”
Toronto continues investigation into cause of massive power outage – CP24
Hydro One says it will take “several days” to repair hydro lines that were damaged after an upright crane in the lake slammed into them and caused a massive power outage downtown on Thursday.
The outage occurred in the city’s financial district at around 12:30 p.m., leaving approximately 10,000 customers without power at its peak.
A portion of the Eaton Centre was left in the dark, forcing hundreds of stores to temporarily close. The outage also knocked out power in parts of the Hospital for Sick Children’s campus.
Traffic lights were down in some intersections causing heavy traffic and significant streetcar delays. However, the outage did not affect subways.
Toronto Fire said crews responded to a number of elevator rescues, but no injuries connected to the outage were reported yesterday.
Hydro One says the outage was caused when a barge moving an upright crane in the Port Lands area hit overhead high voltage transmission lines.
“Now, what happened when that crane hit the line resulted in a downstream effect where a surge of power affected a nearby station on the Esplanade that we were actually using to reroute power to Toronto Hydro,” Hydro One Spokesperson Tiziana Baccega Rosa told CP24 Friday morning.
The City of Toronto says the barge was being operated by a subcontractor to Southland-Astaldi Joint Venture (SAJV), which is a contractor for the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant outfall project.
Crews were reportedly preparing to move equipment into the lake for the project when the incident occurred.
“We’re going to use stone that needs to be placed out in the lake and the subcontractors were going to do that work for us but they were moving equipment. The event occurred off-site while they were doing their preparatory work,” Lou Di Gironimo, Toronto Water’s general manager told CP24 Friday.
Baccega Rosa said Hydro One crews were able to reroute about 50 per cent of the power shortly after the incident, which resulted in power being restored in some areas quicker than others.
Crews then had to stop their efforts and wait for the fire department to clear the site for workers to safely enter and reroute the rest of the power.
Once crews gained access, they were able to reroute all power to Toronto Hydro and power was fully restored downtown by 8 p.m.
Baccega Rosa said there are established safety protocols to stay a minimum of 10 metres away from power lines, which were not followed yesterday.
“And that’s (for) anyone whether, you know, you’re a barge passing under them (power lines) or if you’re doing work around your house and you need to trim the tree branches around the line connecting your home. You know, everyone was very lucky yesterday that there was not a safety incident and no one was hurt as a result of this,” she said.
The city has launched an investigation into the incident and has requested a full report from SAJV to understand what happened.
“So the big thing that we’re going to look at is what happened? Who was in charge of the subcontractor work? What were the safety procedures in place at the time? And then what exactly happened when the crane hit the wires?,” Di Gironimo said.
Di Gironimo could not confirm if the subcontractors will face any consequences for the incident.
“That will be part of the investigation to find out what happened. What were those precautions that were supposed to be in place. What was followed? What wasn’t?”
He said the city is meeting with SAJV next week and plans to complete the investigation within a matter of weeks.
B.C. couple still owes $19M despite bankruptcy, appeal court rules – Business in Vancouver
Rogers, Shaw formalize planned Freedom sale to Quebecor – BNN Bloomberg
Rogers Communications Inc., Shaw Communications Inc. and Quebecor Inc. announced Friday they reached a definitive agreement for the previously-announced proposed sale of Shaw’s Freedom Mobile wireless business.
The three companies said that the terms of the definitive pact are “substantially consistent” with their original announcement on June 17, when they said Montreal-based Quebecor agreed to pay $2.85 billion to purchase Freedom. Originally, July 15 was the target to reach the definitive agreement.
“We are very pleased with this agreement, and we are determined to continue building on Freedom’s assets,” said Quebecor president and chief executive officer Pierre Karl Péladeau in a release Friday. “Quebecor has shown that it is the best player to create real competition and disrupt the market.”
The transaction is conditional on Rogers receiving final regulatory approvals for its planned $20-billion takeover of Shaw, which was announced in March 2021.
The road to regulatory approval has become more treacherous for Rogers after Competition Commissioner Matthew Boswell stated his objections to the plan, warning it would diminish competition in the telecom market, notwithstanding Rogers’ long-stated intent to divest Freedom Mobile.
Rogers’ legal counsel has argued vociferously against Boswell’s claims, saying in a June 3 filing with the Competition Tribunal that Boswell’s stance “is unreasonable, contrary to both the economic and fact evidence presented to the Bureau, and not supportable at law.”
The Competition Tribunal is currently scheduled to begin a hearing on the matter Nov. 7.
Rogers also has to clear another regulatory hurdle: its planned acquisition of Shaw requires approval from Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, who has previously said he won’t allow the wholesale transfer of Shaw’s wireless assets to Rogers.
The process became more complicated for Rogers after a national network outage knocked out service to its customers in early July.
Champagne subsequently said the outage would “certainly be in [his] mind” when weighing the merit of the Shaw sale.
For its part, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Communications announced its conditional approval of the transaction in March.
Shaw investors have consistently demonstrated skepticism that the deal will go ahead as planned, as evidenced by its shares never once attaining the $40.50-per-share takeover offer from Rogers since the takeover was announced last year.
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