Coffee shop stock photo

The Boss “Educated” Me about the Union

Shortly after I started working at a Bluestone Lane (BSL) cafe, all three Philly locations filed a petition to organize with Local 80, Philadelphia Joint Board, Workers United. Three days later, Andrew Stone—BSL’s VP of Marketing and brother of CEO Nick Stone—made a surprise visit. He wanted to talk with each of us individually to help us cast “an educated vote” in the union election. I was already fed up after less than two weeks of working there. When it was my turn with Andy, I made sure all my coworkers heard what I had to say.

“The juice is not worth the squeeze,” Andy said. Voting for the union will actually harm workers. Of course, he’s not your typical capitalist reactionary; he supports unions … but only for companies that don’t “pay well.” Why do we need a union when BSL “pays above market rate”? As Head Barista making only $8.25 an hour, I had no trouble answering.

Andy responded that BSL will be “forced to raise menu prices” if workers win higher wages. That means fewer customers and fewer tips for us. I’m no fool, so I broke it down for him, explaining a commodity’s price is based on the time workers need to spend producing it, not our wages. Better wages mean less profit for the bosses, not higher prices for the customers. All I was hearing is he didn’t want a pay cut!

He looked wounded, pleading that he wasn’t some fat cat; he’s a “family man” running a “family business.” BSL is only a “small company” (58 stores and counting). He and his brother call the shots, not a board of directors. They aren’t greedy like Starbucks or Dunkin. He’s a real person with “genuine connections” to all his employees and couldn’t possibly have the same desire to profit off exploiting us.

Barista Coffee Work Free Stock Photo
A commodity’s price is based on the time workers need to spend producing it, not our wages. / Image: Chevanon Photography, Negative Space

“How does your pay compare to mine?” I asked. I know he has a big house in the NYC suburbs. He supports a wife and three children. He can even afford a few nights at the Warwick—to relax in comfort and style when he’s finished browbeating his employees. I could never dream of anything like that on what the “family man” pays. We workers count every cent, never knowing whether we’ll have enough money for next week’s rent or groceries.

Dumbfounded for a moment, Andy eventually composed himself well enough to drone on about how hard he worked to get where he is. He started as a server. Wow, he’s just like us. Then he turned to flattery, commending my intelligence and prophesying big opportunities. I might even make general manager in the near (but indefinite) future. A general manager … not a union worker.

I noticed the healthy growth of his pit stains as he asked for “some advice.” He just can’t figure out why so many workers are trying to get organized! I said he’s seeing a change in class consciousness—not just at BSL, not just nationally, but internationally. Workers are realizing who benefits from the system and they want to fight. That’s when he cut his losses, claiming he had to rush to another location before it closed. But he “loved my insight” and complimented my barista skills. Compliments don’t pay the bills

Back on the floor, my coworkers were astonished by the way I’d spoken to the big boss. They admired my courage, and this was the perfect time to tell them about the RCA and invite them to our upcoming May Day demonstration!

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