Labor & Business

An interview with Starbucks barista and union organizer Cassie Burke

“It’s been very fun having local politicians reach out to me, direct message me and stuff like that,” said barista and union organizer Cassie Burke. “There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for it, not just from other workers, but also people who are trying to enact change politically, which is really cool.”
Photo for An interview with Starbucks barista and union organizer Cassie Burke

Published on April 7, 2022
By Uprise RI

In a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schlutz, workers at the Pace Boulevard Starbucks in Warwick, Rhode Island announced their intention to unionize. It’s the first such effort in the state, following a wave of Starbucks unionization efforts across the country. The letter was posted on the @SBWorkersUnited Twitter account, and presented in full below.

“Unionization will give our store the tools it needs to provide the service our customers want,” said workers in the the letter. “We need proper staffing, proper training, and proper facilities to ensure the quality of our work.”

UpriseRI spoke to barista and union organizer Cassie Burke:

UpriseRI: What’s going on at your particular Starbucks…

Cassie Burke: We’ve just petitioned to unionize, so we’re going to be starting the process officially, out in the public. Right now it’s a matter of waiting. We petitioned to unionize this Wednesday. It’s been made public. Now we’re just waiting to get a election date and just staying strong. There hasn’t been any response from our managers or corporate yet. We’re just waiting to see how things go and how they shake out.

UpriseRI: So you had a card vote, is that the way that works? [A card vote is a way of showing that at least 30% of the workers in a given shop are interested in forming a union.]

Cassie Burke: Yeah, we had a card vote. The requirement to do that is 30%. We easily got more than the majority, so we’re very happy with how it turned out. We’re feeling very confident that it’s going to go our way.

UpriseRI: How many people work at your store? Do you know?

Cassie Burke: It depends on the week, but it usually sits around 24 people.

UpriseRI: This is the first we’ve heard about this happening in Rhode Island, and the response, from what I’ve been seeing online, has been pretty positive. How about you? How are you feeling?

Cassie Burke: I’ve admittedly been spending a lot of time looking at the quote retweets of the letter that we posted. It’s been very fun having local politicians reach out to me, direct message me and stuff like that. There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for it, not just from other workers, but also people who are trying to enact change politically, which is really cool.

UpriseRI: How long have you worked here?

Cassie Burke: I started working here three months ago. My first job in Rhode Island.

UpriseRI: What were the conditions that made you think, “We need a union here.”?

Cassie Burke: Well, for me you know, you look at the general corporate response to the unionization, right? It’s kind of proof itself that you want a union. They’ve been doing a lot of fairly obvious, malignant firings and cutting hours. I mentioned in my letter that I consider unionizing an act of self defense against this sort of thing because without it, your only real recourse is leaving and with [a union] your recourse is that you are legally entitled to fight for your rights, you know?

Now it’s a matter of just waiting. We’re feeling very good about where we are at the moment. A lot of people online have been asking me, how they can help? And truthfully, the only way you can help is tip me.

UpriseRI: All right. I will do that.

Cassie Burke: Sounds good. But for the most part, we’re feeling good. Just come by, say hi, pick up a cup of coffee and let us know that you support us. It means a lot. We’ve had a few people come in today and just let their support be known…

UpriseRI: I was here earlier this morning.

Cassie Burke: It’s a very enjoyable atmosphere…

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