How Palestine Led My Coworkers and Me to Unionize

UAfter October 7, 2023, How Palestine like many other queer, leftist baristas around the country, I began wearing a “Free Palestine” pin to work. It was a small gesture of solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza, but what other kind of gesture was there for an average person like me to make? I wasn’t the only one seeking such gestures. smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc smc

As the horrors of Israel’s assault on Gaza became clear, throngs of new customers flooded my location of Philz Coffee and its nearly eighty other stores, mostly in California, as they responded to the call for a Starbucks boycott for its lawsuit against its own pro-Palestine union. Philz Coffee started by Phil Jaber, who immigrated from Palestine and contributed to the third-wave coffee movement with his pour-over techniques before stepping down from leadership in 2021.

Since its founding in 2003,

Philz has fostered a culture of acceptance and advocacy, often displaying LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter flags in stores. I specifically applied to work at my local Philz because I believed I would safe and accepted as transgender in my workplace. Still, like any other barista, I was underpaid and overworked.

While experiencing a big rush of customers at work, at least one of my coworkers would usually get a few laughs by suggesting we should unionize. We all knew we were being exploited and pushed beyond our limits, but this seemed to be the expected state of things. While I had held several research and organizing positions for unions in my own professional and academic history, I had little hope that we could make tangible change to our working conditions by organizing.

After my coworker reached out to human resources at Philz Coffee asking for a public statement condemning the genocide in Gaza, not only they dismissed, but Philz Coffee revealed itself to be an adversary rather than ally of the cause of justice for Palestine. That rejection would eventually lead to an unexpected development: unionization at Philz.

How Palestine Take Off the Pin or Go Home

On December 21, 2023, I walked into my 6:30 a.m. shift and was immediately pulled aside by my manager. He told me to take off my “Free Palestine” pin for my own safety. I asked if there  any written rule that could justify this demand. He replied no, but said that I either had to take off the pin or go home. I clocked in for fourteen minutes before I was sent home.

I enraged as I left work. But as the hours went on, I received calls and texts from my coworkers who put on their own “Free Palestine” pins at work. Of the nine people scheduled to work that day, five of us wore Free Palestine pins, were instructed to take them off, refused, and were sent home.

In the months prior, I had been attending the Berkeley City Council meetings with some coworkers in an effort to support a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, which resulted in us looped into a group chat on Signal of enthusiastic organizers in Berkeley. My coworkers and I immediately told our story to the other organizers on this group chat, who in turn shared it on their social media platforms. Before noon, some of the most dedicated activists in the Berkeley community had rallied to our cause — including a California State Senate candidate, Jovanka Beckles, who posted about our story that very day. Community members left bad reviews on Yelp, made phone calls, and even showed up in person at our store seeking to show support.

Most stunningly, How Palestine all of my coworkers expressed:

Only love and support for the difficult decision we each faced that day. Those of us who wore pins empathized with our coworkers who could not take the financial risk of losing expected wages, and those who stayed gave us hugs and encouragement as we sent away, despite the chaos of the understaffed shop we were leaving them. No matter what choice each of us made, we were all enraged at Philz Coffee for putting any of us in that terrible position.

Over the next month, nine different baristas would sent home across twelve different shifts, accumulating over thirty-five hours of lost wages due to an unwritten rule prohibiting “Free Palestine” pins in the workplace. We started group chats, shared our story with customers, spoke to news outlets, and defended each other to corporate. A community-led GoFundMe account raised over a thousand dollars to compensate for our lost wages. At the end of January, Philz corporate finally compromised with us and decided we allowed to wear pins that displayed the Palestinian flag but did not contain the words “Free Palestine.” We relented, many of us having lost more hours than we could afford. But none of us were ready to give up.

No matter what choice each of us made:

We were all enraged at Philz Coffee for putting any of us in that terrible position.
One evening in early February, almost the entire staff of our shop, about twelve of us, gathered in my small living room to discuss our response to the events of the previous month. I took all of the lessons I had learned from studying labor history in school and working for unions and shared them with my coworkers. We considered filing charges claiming wage theft for management’s unjust sending us home and had even approached by lawyers willing to support us. Yet we didn’t feel this would satisfy the frustration felt by the entire staff, not just those who sent home, and ultimately would not remedy the company’s abuse of power. We wondered: Could our energies be better directed toward collective organizing?

How Palestine imagined not only a workplace:

That allowed us to openly support a free Palestine, but also one that paid us a livable wage, provided reasonable benefits, properly staffed each shift, and safeguarded us in criticizing corporate leadership. We wanted to unionize, and we wanted to do it independently.

The entire staff of Philz Coffee in Berkeley is particularly young, the oldest of us being twenty-six. We researched what affiliating with an established union would look like compared to an independent effort. understood the benefits of resources and legal representation that could come with an established union, but we also saw a bureaucratic institution that sparked skepticism in our shared youthful, leftist anger. We had received tremendous community support through our conflicts at work and felt confident in our united motivation to make this a member-led effort. That night, every person in attendance signed a pledge card in agreement to represented by the independent union, Philz Coffee United.

On February 20, 2024, we officially filed with the National Labor Relations Board:

Turning in authorization cards showing 83 percent support for the union. But in the coming weeks, chaos ensued at our store at the hands of management — as it does for so many workers after announcing their intention to unionize. Our manager pulled people into one-on-one meetings, illegally threatening that the company would withhold the upcoming mandatory $20 minimum wage increase for fast food restaurants in California. Posters pinned to our news board displaying coercive and false information about unions and our upcoming election. A barrage of corporate employees, including the CEO, showed up at our store, attempting to manipulate our votes. An email even sent out just six days before our election to each employee at our store, stating that the company had not decided whether or not to renew its lease at our location, and they just wanted to let us know.

The post How Palestine Led My Coworkers and Me to Unionize appeared first on The Muslim News.

Open chat
Assalamualaikum & Welcome to Surrey Heath Muslim Association;