On Friday, November 18, Sara Mughal of Starbucks Workers United addressed students at a conference sponsored by the Princeton Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) and the Whig-Cliosophic Society (Whig-Clio).
Last April, Mughal helped organize the Hopewell Township Starbucks, where she worked. The Hopewell store, located about 10 minutes from campus, was the first Starbucks in New Jersey to unionize.
Mughal’s speech came the day after more than 1,000 Starbucks workers at 100 locations, including Hopewell, went on strike in response to Red Cup Day. On one of its most profitable days of the year, Starbucks hands out limited-edition holiday-themed reusable cups on Red Cup Day.
Some YDSA university students joined workers at the Hopewell site during the strike last week.
“YDSA wants to support the work, it’s part of our efforts to form a more democratic socialist society,” Bryce Springfield ’25, one of those students, told the Daily Princetonian.
Mughal’s speech comes as Starbucks on Nassau Street faces mounting pressure from a staff shortage. Last month, weekday hours were reduced to 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Normal business hours have since been restored, but the location is still facing staff shortages and closed an hour earlier on Monday night, November 21.
At the conference, Mughal said his store had faced similar sporadic hours over the summer.
“Our store was randomly closing at different times. We had 2 p.m. one day and 5 p.m. another,” she said. “So we went on strike, and they immediately set our schedule.”
Mughal discussed the issues that pushed her and her colleagues to unionize. She described a realization she had after working a surprisingly smooth shift on Thanksgiving Day last year, despite the store being very busy due to the holiday season.
“It was just because we had enough people and we had a reasonable amount of work to do,” she said. “It was so upsetting because it could be like this every day, but our company chose to schedule us two fewer people than necessary.”
“During the holidays, managers will brag about the store’s profits,” she added. “We’re like, okay, this number represents my exhaustion from these tasks.”
Mughal said she then got in touch with her colleagues and started organizing. She explained that at first many of them were afraid to use the word “union”.
“It’s just one thing we know you’re not supposed to say,” she said.
Mughal also described his managers’ efforts to prevent him and his colleagues from organizing.
“Starbucks really isn’t creative in its anti-union playbook because it’s one-on-one meetings with managers [and] meetings with a captive audience,” she said.
After filing for union elections in January, Mughal said Starbucks sued them.
“[Starbucks] says it shouldn’t be a one-store election, [but] it should be a district-wide election,” she said. “The reason they did that was to stall – their number one tactic.”
“If they won this case, it would be over for us,” she added.
Mughal said she and her fellow organizers eventually won the case, but as the date for union elections approached, their managers kept pushing back.
She explained that one of the things managers did was cover the rear work area in union-busting leaflets, which Mughal called “scare tactics” and “lies.”
When elected in April, the 15 workers at Hopewell Starbucks voted unanimously to unionize. Mughal attributed the success to the close-knit nature of their store.
“Our cafe is very community-oriented,” she said. Now, “we are fighting for our contract.”
Mughal also offered advice for students looking to make changes in their workplace.
“The first step of this [organizing] is simply to have conversations with your co-workers about workplace issues and make sure you bring attention to them and talk about how they [the issues] are not doing well,” she said.
“Then support other labor organizations that organize sit-ins or strikes. Showing up for this stuff is really great for the workers,” she added.
In conclusion, Mughal emphasized the importance of organization and trade unions. “Collective action is the only way to be taken seriously,” she said.
Miriam Waldvogel is a news contributor for “Prince”. Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.