Efforts brewing at UC Riverside and UCLA to evict Starbucks from campuses for ‘union busting’ activities

Two dozen UC Riverside students chanted “People over property” and carried signs that read “Crush the contract” and “Seize the beans of production” as they climbed four flights of stairs within the university’s administrative office Wednesday afternoon.

The goal was to present Chancellor Kim Wilcox a petition with nearly 800 signatories calling on the school’s administration to dump licensing agreements with coffee juggernaut Starbucks because of what critics call “union-busting campaigns.”

The protest Wednesday in Riverside mirrored a similar action Tuesday at UCLA, where students affiliated with the union-organizing group Starbucks Workers United have been leading efforts to push Starbucks off college campuses.

Starbucks Workers United says there are more than 385 stores and more than 9,500 workers unionized throughout company-owned Starbucks outlets. The coffee giant operates 38,587 stores in 80 countries with 235,000 employees.

A number of UC Riverside students rally against Starbucks at UC Riverside.

A number of UC Riverside students rally against Starbucks at UC Riverside.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

One student-run campaign claimed victory last year when Cornell University pledged not to renew a partnership with Starbucks when their contract ends in June 2025.

“We want Starbucks off this campus,” said UC Riverside junior Eren Whitfield, an organizer with the group UC Riverside Students Against Starbucks. “There is a countless list of federal labor violations against Starbucks, including the firing of employees involved with union organizing, the denying of increased benefits and so many other things.”

Whitfield, a psychology major who aspires to get involved in social work, led a protest at noon in front of Hinderaker Hall, the office of the chancellor and school administrators.

He carried a printed copy of the digital petition and headed toward the chancellor’s office with a small cadre of supporters.

The only traffic they ran into was from a line of students and employees that snaked out of one of the several school-run stores that offer Starbucks drinks and snacks.

After reaching the chancellor’s office, Whitfield knocked on Wilcox’s door and received no answer.

Eren Whitfield, right, presents signed petition against Starbucks to Gerry Bomotti at UC Riverside.

Eren Whitfield, right, presents signed petition against Starbucks to Gerry Bomotti, Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer, at Hinderaker Hall, UC Riverside on Jan. 31.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

That’s when Gerry Bomotti, UC Riverside’s vice chancellor and chief financial officer, opened his door near the chancellor’s office and accepted the petition on behalf of the administration.

Whitfield asked that the group be given “some sort of response” by administrators within a week.

Bomotti agreed to read the letter and offer some feedback.

“We’ll want to educate ourselves on what their concerns are and be able to get back to them and chat about it,” he said.

UC Riverside owns a licensing agreement with Starbucks that is also up for renewal in 2025, Bomotti said.

“In essence, we participate in a franchise agreement with them, but we sell and operate everything,” he said.

The campus has one Starbucks store, but several school-affiliated stores that sell Starbucks-branded drinks and products.

All full-time, nonmanagement workers at Starbucks locations throughout the campus are unionized university employees who have collective bargaining rights, campus officials confirmed.

“This protest isn’t just about the workers on campus but about the actions that Starbucks has taken with its employees across the country,” said Max Ohshima-Li, a UC Riverside senior who’s majoring in political science.

The National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint in December accusing Starbucks of closing six Los Angeles-area stores and 17 other locations nationwide in 2022 allegedly to suppress union organizing.

A Starbucks official rejected claims that the corporation was hostile to organizing.

“We respect our partners’ right to organize, freely associate, engage in lawful union activities and bargain collectively without fear of reprisal or retaliation — and remain committed to our stated aim of reaching ratified contracts for union-represented stores in 2024,” spokesperson Andrew Trull said in a statement.

Trull said Starbucks has engaged in negotiations with several labor organizations representing employees throughout North America, including the Teamsters and United Steelworkers. He acknowledged some difficulty in agreeing to a “format of bargaining” with Starbucks Workers United.

“We disagree with claims made that Starbucks engages in ‘union busting,’” he said.

He also said Starbucks offered robust benefits for student workers.

Trull said the average salary is $17.50 an hour for baristas, plus tips, along with full medical, dental and vision benefits for those working at least 20 hours a week. He said the business also offers free undergraduate degrees for employees who lodge 20 or more hours a week through a partnership with Arizona State University’s online program for first-time degree seekers.

At UCLA on Tuesday, about 15 students offered statements during an Associated Students of UCLA board meeting.

They then delivered a petition to ASUCLA Chief Executive Pouria Abbassi.

David Ramirez, a UCLA senior majoring in geography and environmental and labor studies, said Starbucks “doesn’t share UCLA’s values.”

“We demanded that UCLA cut any purchasing agreements with Starbucks and to remove any facilities off campus,” Ramirez said. “We can do better.”

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