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Friday, March 17, 2023

Rep. Magaziner promotes PRO Act, seeks to expand union membership nationwide

Protect the right to organize, stop union-busting

By Steve Ahlquist

Recently elected United States Representative Seth Magaziner hosted a press conference Thursday morning with local labor leaders and former Starbucks employees to advocate for the passage of the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) and call attention to Starbucks’ recent history of anti-union practices.

Representative Magaziner recently helped to introduce the PRO Act in Congress, which is a comprehensive piece of legislation to protect the rights of workers and ensure workers’ ability to collectively bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces. 

Also included in the bill are provisions to hold employers accountable for violating workers’ rights and secure fair union elections, free from employer interference.

The Economic Policy Institute notes that while “[n]early half of all nonunion workers say they want a union in their workplace… only 12% of all workers are actually represented by a union.” The PRO Act closes loopholes in current labor law and smooths the unionization process, as can be seen here.

“The right to form a union is one of the most fundamental rights for all workers in our country,” said Representative Magaziner. “When workers band together to collectively bargain, they are able to secure higher wages, better benefits, and better working conditions not just or themselves, but for non-unionized workers as well.

“That’s how unions built the middle class in this country.”

The press conference was held outside the Pace Blvd. Starbucks in Warwick, where last year a unionization effort was thwarted by the company. “Starbucks workers across the country have been fighting for their right to join a union and have been meeting a wall of harassment and opposition from the corporation,” said Representative Magaziner.

Cassandra Burke was the organizer of the Starbucks unionization effort in Warwick, a unionization effort that failed on a tie vote. Had the PRO Act been law, there is a good possibility that the Warwick Starbucks would be unionized today. Burke began their unionization effort having heard about the firings and harassment Starbucks workers had to endure across the country during their unionization efforts.

Many of these these stories were confirmed by a judge who recently ruled that Starbucks had violated federal labor law “hundreds of times” during the course of a unionization drive in Buffalo. According to the National Labor Relations Board, 512 unfair labor practice charges have been filed against Starbucks over the last four years.

“To me, unionization was always an act of self-defense,” said Burke. “You could see, plain as day, how Starbucks was treating its union workers and you knew you could be treated the same in an instant if they feel it is profitable.”

Also speaking at the event were AFL-CIO President George Nee and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Crowley. 

Representative Magaziner also mentioned the successful effort of Seven Stars Bakery workers to form a union.

“Seven Stars Bakery is a much smaller company than Starbucks. They had a unionization effort last year [and the company] didn’t fight it,” said Representative Magaziner. “It was a successful one and they’re now working with their union on their first contract. So if a much smaller Rhode Island company like Seven Stars can do it, the certainly a big, multi-national corporation like Starbucks can handled a unionized workforce as well.”

The PRO Act passed the House last year, but failed in the Senate. 

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