On Friday, Nov. 18, Sara Mughal of Starbucks Workers United spoke to students in a talk sponsored by the Princeton Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) and the Whig-Cliosophic Society (Whig-Clio).
Last April, Mughal helped unionize the Hopewell Township Starbucks, where she worked. The Hopewell store, located about 10 minutes away from campus, was the first Starbucks in New Jersey to unionize.
Mughal’s talk took place the day after more than 1,000 Starbucks workers at 100 locations, including at Hopewell, went on strike in response to Red Cup Day. In one of its most profitable days of the year, Starbucks gives out limited-edition reusable holiday-themed cups on Red Cup Day.
Some University students from YDSA joined workers at the Hopewell location during last week’s strike.
“YDSA wants to support labor, that’s part of our efforts in forming a more democratic socialist society,” Bryce Springfield ’25, one of those students, told The Daily Princetonian.
Mughal’s talk comes as the Starbucks on Nassau Street faces increasing pressure from staffing shortages. Last month, weekday hours were reduced from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Normal operating hours have since been restored, but the location still faces some staffing shortages and closed an hour early the night of Monday, Nov. 21.
At the talk, Mughal said her store faced similarly sporadic hours over the summer.
“Our store would randomly close at different points. We’d have 2 p.m. one day and 5 p.m. another,” she said. “So, we went on strike, and they immediately fixed our schedule.”
Mughal discussed the issues that drove her and her coworkers to unionize. She described a realization she had after working a surprisingly smooth shift on Thanksgiving Day last year, despite the store being quite busy because of the holiday season.
“It was just because we had enough people and had a reasonable amount of work to do,” she said. “It was so upsetting because it could be that way every day, but our company was choosing to just schedule us two less people than they need to.”
“During the holidays, managers will brag about the store’s profits,” she added. “We’re like, okay, that number represents my exhaustion from these tasks.”
Mughal said she then got in touch with her coworkers and started organizing. She explained that at first, many of them were worried about using the word “union.”
“It’s just a thing we know you’re not supposed to say,” she said.
Mughal also described her managers’ efforts to prevent her and fellow coworkers from organizing.
“Starbucks really is not creative in their union busting playbook, because it’s one-on-one meetings with managers [and] captive audience meetings,” she said.
After filing for the union election in January, Mughal said that Starbucks took them to court.
“[Starbucks] said it should not be a one-store election, [but] that should be a district wide election,” she said. “The reason they did that was to stall — their number one tactic.”
“If they won that case, it would be over for us,” she added.
Mughal said she and her fellow organizers ended up winning the case, but as the date of the union election neared, their managers kept pushing back.
She explained that one thing managers did was cover the back work area in anti-union leaflets, which Mughal dubbed as “scare tactics” and “lies.”
During their election in April, all 15 workers at the Hopewell Starbucks voted unanimously to unionize. Mughal attributed the success to the close-knit nature of their store.
“Our cafe is very community-oriented,” she said. Now, “we’re fighting towards our contract.”
Mughal also offered advice for students who are looking to make change in their workplace.
“The first step of that [organizing] is just having conversations with your coworkers about workplace issues and making sure that you’re bringing attention to them and talking about how they [the issues] are not okay,” she said.
“Then, supporting other labor organizations having sit-ins or having strikes. Showing up to these kinds of things is really great for the workers,” she added.
In closing, Mughal stressed the importance of organizing and unions. “Collective action is the only way to be taken seriously,” she said.
Miriam Waldvogel is a news contributor for the ‘Prince.’ Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.