Event organizer

Teenaged Union Organizer Eyes Assembly Seat – Press Banner

Union organizer Joe Thompson just learned on May 11 that his efforts to unionize the first Starbucks stores in California – which seemed unlikely just a few years ago – have been successful.

The 19-year-old, candidate for Assembly District 28, said the campaign for workers’ rights in Santa Cruz returned to an informal gathering with colleagues in November near the untitled artwork created in 1974 by Kenny Farrell, commonly referred to as the “Porter Squiggle”.

“We’ve all gone stargazing during a lunar eclipse,” he said. “We really just talked, ‘What do we want to do to make sure we have a voice at work?’ and ‘How can we get this?’

Thompson is vying for the State Assembly seat vacated by incumbent Mark Stone who elected not to run again. He faces known quantities, including former Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin, Los Gatos Mayor Rob Rennie and Monte Sereno Councilwoman Liz Lawler.

Thompson was born in the Sacramento area. He spent three years in Texas working in different Starbucks stores. He also held a second job at a pizzeria.

Last September, he moved to Santa Cruz to begin his freshman year at UC Santa Cruz, majoring in environmental studies with a political concentration.

For Thompson, the arrival of the coronavirus has highlighted serious issues with how Starbucks treats its workforce.

“We are not paid enough to do this job,” he said, adding that the current climate has helped spur organizing efforts across the country. “The reason there is so much union activity is that all Starbucks [locations] across the country are facing the same pandemic issues.

For example, at the Ocean Street location where he works, he claims the company took away a food benefit he previously received. And they also started cracking down on other things, like making sure employees didn’t wear more than one pro-union pin, according to Thompson.

“Starbucks is cutting the hours of labor for union leaders in all areas,” he said. “Personally, my hours have been reduced.”

He says it happened while he was in the middle of a dispute filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

As their union organization intensified, company representatives seemed to hang around more often, he claims.

“They’re watching us more,” he said. “Senior management had a lot of presence there.”

Starbucks denies obstructing union organizing and says hours often fluctuate seasonally.

“From the start, we have been clear in our belief that we are better off together as partners, with no union between us, and that belief has not changed,” a spokesperson said. “Any allegation of anti-union activity is categorically false. We respect our partners’ right to organize and are committed to following the NLRB process.

While Thompson says he has a good relationship with Pellerin — even looping her over different events he hosts — he claims he’s the strongest candidate.

“I have nothing personally against her,” he said. “But I think we need young people to be represented.”

In a recent interview on KSQD’s “Talk of the Bay,” Thompson explained how that translates to boots on the pitch in the campaign arena.

“When you have volunteer staff, they’re more motivated,” he told the host. “We are able to knock on all doors.

Thompson describes Rennie as another “decent” candidate, but says the Los Gatos lawmaker hasn’t gone far enough to make affordable housing available or improve brownfields.

“On some issues we disagree, and we strongly disagree,” he said. “Rob voted against marijuana dispensaries in Los Gatos.”

Rennie says he has yet to decide which way he will vote as Los Gatos weighs whether to allow commercial cannabis operations in town. Still, he backed a motion to deny marijuana companies after California legalized recreational sales of the plant.

And while they’re on opposite ends of the political spectrum, in some ways, Thompson says, he shares more in common with Lawler than with the others.

“Rob and Gail have both donated over $100,000 to their two campaigns,” he said. “Even Liz and I agree on campaign finance reform.”

Thompson calls himself a pro-worker worker and notes that he has been endorsed by the California Democratic Renters Council.

Building affordable housing would be high on his to-do list if elected, he promises, adding that dynamic young people could now help more Democrats get elected in the 2024 election.

“It’s going to be a hard-fought race,” he said. “I think a lot of young people don’t really see the value of voting against it.

“These downward races have a real impact on your life.”

Thompson says the kinds of things that resonate with younger people — climate change, income inequality and the housing crisis — can be easy for an older generation to view as too amorphous, too improbable or too idealistic. .

While still the longtime candidate, he is currently riding the wave of Labor’s historic breakthrough that will surely be on the minds of some voters rushing to Starbucks for a cup of coffee on their way to the polls.

“If we keep electing the same people over and over again, how can we expect change?” He asked. “Our campaign is less about partisan politics and more about what’s best for people.”