Commemorating a day they are rarely able to get off themselves, a group of Starbucks workers stood on Ewing Avenue Saturday morning preparing to march in the Labor Day parade on the city’s far Southeast Side.
“Starbucks is open all the damn time,” said Reed Essex, who works at a Bucktown Starbucks that recently voted to unionize.
This year, Labor Day takes on an added poignancy for the Starbucks baristas who lined up to march in the parade alongside teamsters, iron workers and other workers amid an ongoing fight for better working conditions in Starbucks stores. At least 10 Chicago Starbucks stores have filed for union representation with Starbucks Workers United since January.
The Chicago Labor Day parade, back for the first time since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kicked off around noon with music, floats and marchers traversing for blocks in the hot sun, the event coming in the midst of a flood of union activity in the past year.
Union representation filings with the National Labor Relations Board went up by about 57% between October 2021 and March as compared to the previous fiscal year, with some pointing to dangerous working conditions during the last two years during the pandemic.
The Starbucks workers said they are on their feet all day sometimes dealing with aggressive customers, poor vacation leave policies and grueling schedules. Jasper Booth-Hodges, a parade marcher who previously worked at a Hyde Park Starbucks, said he worked for two years before accruing three vacation days.
“I think it’s so important,” Booth-Hodges said. “Every workplace should have a union.”
Before the parade started, Melisa Lopez draped green and white streamers, preparing to march on behalf of the Girl Scouts. Lopez lives in the neighborhood and was excited to see the parade resume after the hiatus. She grew up in a union home — her father was a steelworker.
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“It’s nice to be back out, have everything back open,” she said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot attended the parade, waving to some community members before the marchers set off.
Members of Roofers Local 11, representing roofers and waterproofers, stood together in lime green shirts, saying they are proud to commemorate hard-won victories of the Labor Movement.
“Labor built this city,” said Kevin Coleman, a Roofers Local 11 member.
Groups supporting a union-related constitutional amendment in Illinois sat on a large float, with signs asking voters to support the measure in November. The proposed amendment, which would enshrine the right to unionize in the constitution and ban “right-to-work” laws, was approved last year by Illinois lawmakers to be put on the ballot on Nov. 8.
The Far Southeast Side, historically the home of steel mill workers who worked at plants in the area, hosted the first parade in 1959, according to organizers. After a decline in 1993, Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza helped revive the tradition in 2015.
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