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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 19, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 34
Union to Starbucks: Stop buying from anti-LGBT supplier
Section One
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Union to Starbucks: Stop buying from anti-LGBT supplier

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Twenty Teamsters union members and community supporters leafleted the lunchtime crowd in front of Starbucks corporate headquarters on August 17.

Organized by the Teamsters LGBT Caucus with support from Pride At Work (an LGBT labor organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO) and the Martin Luther King County Labor Council (MLKCLC), the union supporters handed out flyers recalling the classic ACT UP 'Silence = Death' format.

'Starbucks remember: Silence = Abuse,' they read.

According to Teamsters staffers, the union has no beef with Starbucks, but they want Starbucks to stop buying produce from a particularly abusive vendor, Taylor Farms.

If you've ever eaten at Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, or Chipotle, or bought bagged produce from Safeway, QFC, or Ralph's, chances are you've had Taylor Farms products.

'It's a Jekyll and Hyde situation [with Starbucks],' Teamsters staffer Doug Bloch told SGN. Bloch is the political director for Teamsters Joint Council 7 in California, the union organization that hopes to represent some 900 Taylor Farms employees.

'Starbucks has an excellent policy when it comes to freedom of association - in other words, the right to form a union - and sexual orientation and gender protections. They also have the same standards for their suppliers. But they have a blind spot when it comes to Taylor Farms.'

Taylor Farms is the largest processor of fresh vegetables in North America. The Teamsters already represent more than 2,000 Taylor Farms workers in Salinas, Calif., in the heart of that state's agricultural belt.

But when they tried to organize about 900 additional workers in the company's processing operation, the company 'viciously fought' unionization efforts, Bloch says.

He means 'viciously' quite literally. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) investigators found the company guilty of more than 50 unfair labor practices, including harassment of LGBT employees because of their sexual orientation and retaliation against union supporters. More than 20 Taylor Farms workers had been fired in retaliation for supporting the union, Bloch said.

Eva Mendoza, a Taylor Farms worker in Seattle to raise local awareness of their struggle, told SGN the story of one Gay coworker, a friend of hers and a fellow union supporter, who was sexually harassed by his female shift lead.

'She would rub her breasts in front of him,' Mendoza recalled, 'and grope him. Once she even grabbed his genitals and said 'Does this turn you on? Does this give you a boner?'

When the man complained to management, they moved the woman to a different workstation but took no disciplinary action against her.

Another friend, this time a Lesbian, was denied the opportunity to work the same shift as her wife, even though opposite-sex couples are regularly assigned the same shifts. Other LGBT workers who are perceived as pro-union by the company have been bullied and assaulted at work, Mendoza said.

'Starbucks has long maintained that it is a corporation committed to equality,' said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117, based here in Seattle.

'If that is the case, why do they purchase food from a company that allows LGBT workers to be physically assaulted and harassed at work? Money is the most powerful thing in business, and if Starbucks has any integrity, they would invest in food suppliers that have basic standards for human decency.'

'I'm glad the Teamsters have brought attention to the issue in the labor community here,' said MLKCLC Executive Secretary Nicole Grant.

'Starbucks' complacency in the face of hate crimes against LGBT workers from one of their suppliers is cowardly and deplorable. The Seattle labor movement proudly backs our brothers and sisters in California fighting for safe working conditions and a union. We will be educating all our affiliates about this.'

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