15 September 2023

Let’s show love to Starbucks employees!

The strike in Philadelphia is not the first. This is from 2022, captured by Marylu Herrera for www.eater.com

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is the 223rd article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below]      

I’m sitting at a Black Turtle Coffee outlet, located at the corner of 21th Street and Chestnut Street in Philadelphia having a medium black coffee with Bon Jovi’s ‘Bed of Roses’ playing the background. Good coffee, good music, warm and friendly service. And I have to thank Starbucks employees for it.

This is how it happened.

I planned to sit in a coffee shop and write. Looking for a coffee shop with WiFi while driving was a bit tiresome, so I suggested to my sister that she drop me off at a Starbucks outlet. She did. I ordered a small cup of coffee, set up my laptop and started playing some bullet chess online as I usually did before I write.

A few minutes later, I heard an announcement: ‘Sorry guys, we are closing because we are going on strike.’ This was followed by some information regarding alternatives and compensation which I didn’t quite get. But as I was leaving out, I asked one of the employees what the strike was all about.

‘We are severely understaffed for the amount of business that comes through the store in the afternoon,’ I was told. I asked if they are not planning to hire more people and was told, ‘apparently not.’

Further inquiries elicited the following explanation:

‘We are severely understaffed for the amount of business that comes through the store on Thursday afternoons in September due to a buy one get one free deal on fall themed drinks (like the pumpkin spice lattes). Our store was extremely busy last Thursday (9/7) and we had a skeleton crew working. We demanded the mobile orders be turned off at 4 union stores in Philadelphia for the duration of the "Thurs-yays" promotion or else we will walk out at each of those 4 locations.’

Demands not met. Strike on.

I took my coffee outside. Several customers turned up but they were politely informed of the situation. I was still sipping the coffee when another customer turned up. I told her ‘they are on strike.’ She knocked on the glass door anyway, explaining, ‘I want to show love!’ An employee came up to the door, the customer gave a thumbs-up, smiled and walked away.

I first heard about Starbucks in 1996 when my friend Kanishka Goonewardena told me he was meeting a woman he was interested in. Nothing came out of it. I referred to the encounter as ‘Starbucks’ and one day when I asked him ‘what’s happening with Starbucks,’ he replied, ‘all I know is that my bucks are fast disappearing!’ He did tell me something of the humble beginnings in Seattle, but I had forgotten the story.

Today I know that by 1996, there were 1,105 outlets and now there are 35,711 in 80 countries, quite a distance from Seattle’s Pike Place Market there Gerald Baldwin, Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegl set up shop just so that people in the city could have access to ‘the delicious dark-roasted coffee they loved but had to go out of town to find.’

In 1990 Starbucks came out with a mission statement: ‘To establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles as we grow.’ This was amended in 2008: ‘to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.’

‘Uncompromising principles’ has been dropped. A symptomatic reading is possible: principles had been compromised. They do have some ‘thinking,’ obviously. This is the advert: ‘We are so much more than what we brew. We call our employees partners because we are all partners in shared success. We make sure everything we do is through the lens of humanity—from our commitment to the highest-quality coffee in the world, to the way we engage with our customers and communities to do business responsibly.

The employees are not in agreement though. Starbucks, I learned, consistently and belligerently resist all efforts to unionize. Starbucks close all three outlets in Ithaca, NY, for example. It can’t be a coincidence that they were all unionized. Students of Cornell University insisted, ‘if Starbucks is going to get out of Ithaca, we should get them all the way out; they shouldn’t be profiting off our campus and our community.’ The university announced that Starbucks would not be served in its dining halls. Students in other universities are making the same demand, essentially, ‘allow unionization or leave.’

Daisy Pitkin of Starbucks Workers United who is the field director of the unionisation drive claims that 'Starbucks is doing everything in its power to ignore its unionized workers.’ She notes that Starbucks has to listen to its customers.’ 

‘We’re calling on customers to join the fight and stand with Starbucks workers on September 14. Our theory is that if every customer who supports unionized Starbucks workers talks to 10 or 20 other customers, then we are building a powerful consumer network that Starbucks can’t ignore.’

So I am still at Black Turtle Coffee, about to get a second cup. It was founded in October 17, 2021, I learned, by Braeden Anderson and Selena Gabrielle bonded by a common love of good coffee. Much like Baldwin, Bowker and Siegl, they set up Black Turtle Coffee in a South Jersey seashore town because they couldn’t find the premium, freshly roasted coffee they had been used to in New York City. It is ‘a woman and Black-owned specialty coffee roastery and cafe based in Brigantine,’ with this lovely, cosy and warm outlet in Philadelphia. They want to ‘share first-class, luxury coffee experiences and make top-grade coffee accessible and affordable for everyone.’

What could be wrong with that? What could go wrong? Well, things can go sour when conversations stop. If Starbucks is about neighbourhood it has to be about conversation. This includes celebration of conversations among and with workers. 

I’m showing love here at Black Turtle Coffee. I just spoke with Dalton Soffer, one of the current owners of 'Absecon Capital,' which runs Black Turtle Coffee. Soffer is a former college basketball teammate of Braeden Anderson at Seton Hall University, NJ.  And I am showing love to the Starbucks workers who are on strike as I write.

Having a conversation. Being a good neighbor. Showing love.


Other articles in this series: 

You've got mail?

Octavio Paz and Arthur C Clarke in the stratosphere 

Enduring solidarities 

Coco 'Quotes' Gauff!

9/11 and the calm metal instrument of Salvador Allende's voice 

What a memory-keeper foregoes 

Whitman, Neruda and things that wait in all things

Thilina Kaluthotage's eyes keep watch

Those made of love will fly

Profit: the peragamankaru of major wars

Helplessness and innocence

The parameters of entirety

In loving memory of Carrie Lee (1956-2020)

Mobsters on and off the screen

Transfixing and freeing dawns

We're here because we're here because we're here

Life signatures

Sha'Carri Richardson versus and with Sha'Carri Richardson  

A canvas for a mind-brush

Sybil Wettasinghe's shoes

Love is...

A stroll with Pragg and Arjun along a boulevard in Baku

Meditation on tree-art

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan 

Enlightening geometries 

Let's meet at 'The Commons' 

It all begins with a dot 

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation 

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone 

On sweeping close to one's feet 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts... 

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm 

Who really wrote 'Mother'? 

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing 

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed 

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember 

On loving, always 

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal 

When you turn 80... 

It is good to be conscious of nudities  

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday  

There's a one in a million and a one in ten 

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California 

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature 

Pathways missed 

Architectures of the demolished 

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts 

Who the heck do you think I am? 

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha' 

The Mangala Sabhava 

So how are things in Sri Lanka? 

The most beautiful father 

Palmam qui meruit ferat 

The sweetest three-letter poem 

Buddhangala Kamatahan 

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello 

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership 

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked 

Pure-Rathna, a class act 

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna 

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other 

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles 

Matters of honor and dignity 

Yet another Mother's Day 

A cockroach named 'Don't' 

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth 

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara 

Sweeping the clutter away 

Some play music, others listen 

Completing unfinished texts 

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn 

I am at Jaga Food, where are you? 

On separating the missing from the disappeared 

Moments without tenses 

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have) 

The world is made of waves 


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller 

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya' 

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist 

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses 

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced 

Some stories are written on the covers themselves 

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature 

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time  

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie 

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists? 

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords 

The books of disquiet 

A song of terraced paddy fields 

Of ants, bridges and possibilities 

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva  

World's End 

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse 

Street corner stories 

Who did not listen, who's not listening still? 

The book of layering 

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain 

The world is made for re-colouring 

The gift and yoke of bastardy 

The 'English Smile' 

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5 

Visual cartographers and cartography 

Ithaca from a long ago and right now 

Lessons written in invisible ink 

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness' 

A tea-maker story seldom told 

On academic activism 

The interchangeability of light and darkness 

Back to TRADITIONAL rice 

Sisterhood: moments, just moments 

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging 

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha 

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows 

Sirith, like pirith, persist 

Fragrances that will not be bottled  

Colours and textures of living heritage 

Countries of the past, present and future 

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched 

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains 

The ways of the lotus 

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace 

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville 

Live and tell the tale as you will 

Between struggle and cooperation 

Of love and other intangibles 

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions 

The universe of smallness 

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers 

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills 

Serendipitous amber rules the world 

Continents of the heart
The allegory of the slow road