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Starbucks workers to hold labor rights rally at Cal Anderson

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Photo by Brendan McDermid / AP
Photo by Brendan McDermid / AP

Starbucks workers and their supporters will rally at Cal Anderson Park at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 23.

The event is the latest escalation in the workers' ongoing unionization campaign. They charge their employer, the international coffee behemoth, with illegal retaliation against pro-union workers. Starbucks corporation denies the charges.

Image courtesy of Seattle City Councilmember Sawant  

Employees at Starbucks' Denny and Broadway store voted unanimously to unionize on March 22. Seven other Seattle locations are heading in the same direction, including Starbucks' flagship Reserve Roastery on Pike Street and the Olive Way and Summit Avenue store.

Six other Starbucks locations in Buffalo, NY, and Mesa, AZ, have voted to unionize, with some 150 other stores filing for union elections. The union, Starbucks Workers United, is part of Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Union activists in Seattle as well as other Starbucks locations around the country say the company is working overtime to intimidate and punish union supporters.

Seven union supporters in Memphis, TN, were fired as group. Another union activist in North Carolina was fired for allegedly "breaking a sink" in her store. The woman says the poorly maintained sink fell on her as she was washing dishes.

Seattle Starbucks employee Sarah Pappin told NPR that the company retaliated against her pro-union stand by cutting her hours by 32%. Others say they've been forced to attend so-called "captive audience" meetings, mandatory staff meetings in which the company offers anti-union propaganda. A barista at Seattle's Reserve Roastery told NPR that employees there were required to attend four such meetings in a single week.

Transgender Starbucks employee Phoenix Vinup told NPR they want to see the company live up to its brand.

"It was really surprising to me because Starbucks as a company wants to be invested in Trans rights; they try to provide healthcare for Trans partners. But I realized once I started working there that that wasn't always the case," they said.

Vinup's first job was at Starbucks, but once they were on staff at Seattle's Reserve Roastery, they quit. Vinup said they were mistreated by customers and other employees and were brushed off by management when they asked for support.

They subsequently got rehired at a new location, something they said they were inspired to do because of the new union movement.

Apparently in desperation, Starbucks has brought back Starbucks founder Howard Schultz as CEO. At Starbucks' recent shareholders meeting, board chair Mellody Hobson said the company understands and recognizes its workers' right to organize.

"We are also negotiating in good faith, and we want a constructive relationship with the union," she said.

She told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that Starbucks "made some mistakes" when asked about the union push.

"When you think about, again, why we're leaning on Howard in this moment, it's that connection with our people where we think he's singularly capable of engaging with our people in a way that will make a difference," she said.