Starbucks Workers in Japan Form Labor Union

📸 Syutoken Seinen Union

📸 Syutoken Seinen Union

Three workers at Starbucks Japan formed the company’s first labor union in the country on November 1. This came after the company refused to accept demands for higher wages during a collective bargaining session in August. Starbucks Union Japan has invited employees at other Starbucks stores across Japan to join them.

“Everyone is having a tough time making ends meet with a low-paid Starbucks job. So, we decided to form our union so that we can work with peace of mind.” - Kawabata Soul, founding member of Starbucks Union Japan 

Union Busting

Seattle-based Starbucks was founded in 1971. Twenty five years later, the company opened its first overseas store in the upscale Ginza district of Tokyo, Japan. Today there are 1,784 Starbucks stores in Japan and 35,000 stores in 80 countries but apart from a short lived union in Seattle that was set up in 1985, the company has successfully beaten efforts to organize workers until 2021. 

Starbucks Workers United

The first major unionization effort for Starbucks workers in the U.S. started in Buffalo, New York, when workers voted 19-8 to join a union. (Starbucks workers in Chile and New Zealand already have unions.) To date, over 367 stores across the U.S. have voted to unionize, undeterred by Starbucks’ aggressive union-busting tactics

Unionization in Japan

Some 10 million workers in Japan belong to a union (16.5 percent of workers) but the big unions don’t include part-time, temporary or gig workers (almost 40 percent of workers). This began to change in 2000 when Syutoken-Seinen Union (Tokyo Metropolitan Youth Union) began to organize workers at national restaurant chains Katsuya and Sushiro, as well as at cosmetic brand Lush’s retail stores.

Workers Organize

Inspired by this, a tiny contingent of three Starbucks workers in Japan decided to take action. They set up a union to demand pay raises, chairs at cash registers, and reduce staff shortages. Kawabata Soul, one of the founders, said she was paid just above minimum wage and was never promoted, despite years of service.

“You can't increase corporate value without workers. I want you to give me a wage that matches my labor.” - Maeda Sorami, former Starbucks worker. 

Successful Unionization

The three workers set up Starbucks Union Japan as a member group of the Syutoken-Seinen Union. The union has begun collective bargaining with management. To date, the union reports that the company has agreed to one demand: expanding the size of rest areas for staff.

Company Response

“Since our opening, we have provided the best experience to our customers and fostered connections with the community. This attitude will not change. We will listen sincerely to the voices of [employees], respond to them, and move forward together.”

This is #73 in our series of Instagram infographics on resistance against corporate power.

Click here to see the full post on Instagram.

📷 'Change is Brewing!' -- Starbucks Workers Union Efforts Courthouse Plaza Arlington (VA) December 2022 by Ron Cogswell
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Elliot Stoller

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