7 min read

tien's newsletter is now TIME AND A HALF, hello

Dana Scully from the X-Files waving hello
This is relevant

I realize it's been quite some time since many of you signed up for this newsletter, and I am sorry! Most of you signed up right after this piece, about the possibility of food media de-centering employers. That was a year and a half ago!

So a bit belated, but it's never too late to be the change you want to see, etc, etc., please say hello to my rebooted newsletter, time and a half, a roundup of interesting-to-me news related to food and labor. The plan is to do this twice a month, but we will see. Here we go!

Every week is National Farmworkers Awareness Week, but this week is officially NFAW

Starbucks

The first unionized Starbucks in Seattle: Starbucks was founded in Seattle, so this feels symbolically significant: A Starbucks location in Capitol Hill is the first in Seattle to be fully unionized (and the seventh one in the nation). As Inside These Times notes, Starbucks currently is running one hell of a union-busting campaign, which is all the more reason why this unionization effort is kind of amazing.

At Civil Eats, Naomi Starkman spoke with labor reporter Steven Greenhouse about, among other things, the significance of the Starbucks unionization movement + whether it can drive unionization at fast food restaurants and efforts to organize farmworkers.

Per More Perfect Union, there are nearly 160 Starbucks locations pushing for unionization. Here in Los Angeles, a Starbucks location in the Little Tokyo district of downtown announced it plans to unionize, too; from Caitlin Hernández's piece in LAist:

Jesse De La Cruz said his staff has become more stressed and overworked and that he hopes unionizing will provide some relief by giving them the respect and protection they deserve.

I'm especially aware of LA food media since I live here, and other than LAist, I haven't really seen much local coverage of the unionization efforts among LA-area Starbucks workers. Which is odd? This is a 🎉 historic nationwide movement 🎉 ??

Quick digression, why would you name your coffee shop after Starbuck?

Always found it funny that the Starbucks co-founders chose the name Starbuck without really caring who he was in the book. As co-founder Gordon Bowker recounted years ago in the Seattle Times: "As soon as I saw Starbo [the name of a mining town], I, of course, jumped to Melville’s first mate [named Starbuck] in Moby-Dick. But Moby-Dick didn’t have anything to do with Starbucks directly; it was only coincidental that the sound seemed to make sense."

In case you did not read the book or watch the movies, Starbuck in Moby-Dick is a great first mate, sturdy, smart, lots of experience, and brave ... to a point. (Even Ahab says Starbuck is "waxes brave, but nevertheless obeys; most careful bravery that!" and you know, that's the sort of foreshadowing you write pages and pages about in English class.) Starbuck knows Ahab's pursuit of Moby Dick will be deadly, he tries to convince him to stand down, he actually has a chance to kill Ahab and save the crew but doesn't take it ... and ultimately, he's nevertheless obeys his boss and follows him into the maw of ocean. (Interestingly, the other notable Starbuckses in pop culture — Dana Scully and Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica — are the opposite of their namesake. They'd join, if not, organize a union.)

Obviously we're now so disconnected from the founding days of Starbucks that the company is not embarrassed to not mention Starbuck at all. Instead — and I'm not sure if this is better or worse — the company explains away its name by making an extremely vague connection to the book: "Our name was inspired by the classic tale, 'Moby-Dick,' evoking the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders." Ok! Maybe read the book!

Anyway, more relevant to this newsletter, Ahab was just one of a handful of awful captains that Melville wrote about. By the late 19th century, sailors' unions were starting to form across the country; this New York Times blurb from 1889 mentions an organizer's intent to organize "in all Attantic [sic] ports as far down as Mexico."

A unionized co-op!

From Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland:

“It’s definitely unique for a union to form at a cooperatively owned business. But because of that unique circumstance, it’s even more necessary,” says Jesi Bonoan, a front-of-house employee at Mirisata. “A lot of lines are blurred in a structure like this. ... The restaurant was founded on this premise of being democratic and worker-first, but as long as these power structures exist between workers and worker-owners, there is going to be that push and pull.”

Mask mandate, what mask mandate

In January, Priya Krishna and Christina Morales at the New York Times reported on the uncertainty amongst food service workers and owners about Omicron. Since then, a number of cities have dropped, or will soon drop, their mask mandates. So many of the stories I read about this were not unlike the stories about the minimum wage: That is, they acknowledge how the policy will affect workers, employers, and customers, but quote chefs, owners, and/or customers only ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Anyway, a few articles that did broaden the lens to consider the many people with varying degrees of power who will be affected by a public health policy: Jenn Ladd's Philadelphia Inquirer article, Emma Spector in Vogue, and Laura Gulbinas in an opinion piece for the Daily Bruin.

The Law

California's Private Attorney General Act is a unique law that allows private citizens to essentially "stand in the shoes" of the labor commissioner and file a claim in court for alleged violations of the state's labor laws. Passed in 2003, it was intended to give workers (including, of course, food workers) an avenue for recovery that theoretically would be faster than waiting around for the overworked and understaffed Department of Labor to review their file. Other states have considered passing a similar law.

Critics say it's spawned a ton of frivolous lawsuits that are too expensive to defend, and even on the best day, workers don't make out nearly as well as the lawyers and the state (which also gets a cut of the recovery). Advocates say it's a key mechanism to enforce the state's labor laws.

I bring all this up because on March 30, the Supreme Court will hear a case where the primary issue is whether employees can file a PAGA claim even if their employment contract mandates arbitration (Reuters, San Francisco Chronicle) . If they can't, workers will have to arbitrate their claims, outside the purview of the state, and any settlements or decisions reached can only be on their own behalf.  And the state will lose a much needed aid to enforce labor laws. Employers, meanwhile, will probably be very relieved, and the more unscrupulous will get a way with a lot more than they currently get away with.

Other law things:

Well

Upcoming...

Keep an eye out for Soleil Ho's food writing workshop for restaurant workers!

Two more things before clocking out:

  • Anita Chabra at the Los Angeles Times profiled Lorena Gonzalez, who recently resigned from the state Legislature to head the California Labor Federation.
  • This email from an Applebee's executive is absolutely callous and horrible; it's also an extreme version of what many restaurants have historically done: Find ways to pay people as little a possible. Jake Holcomb was a manager at one of the Applebee's locations operated by the executive who authored that email; he spoke to Vice and I'll leave you with something he said:
“I really hope that more and more people see what’s happening and see the support that the community has given everybody that chose to leave,” Holcomb said. “I hope that people realize they don’t have to be walked all over by the company that they work for.”

That's it for this first issue! If you're not a subscriber and would like to subscribe, click the Subscribe button. See you in two-ish weeks!