A hard-fought labor victory 

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Photo: Chinnapong/ stock.adobe.com

Brian Nuzzo showed up early to work one March morning, a decision that cost him his job as Starbucks shift supervisor and a ban from the coffee chain.

Unlike three other employees, who are called partners at Starbucks, he did not call in sick that day. To get a jump on planning around the absences, he entered the store on his own, against Starbucks policy. The rule is in place for security reasons, Starbucks officials say.

A lengthy investigation ensued, complete with pulled security tapes and discussions between the store and district manager. In all that time, Nuzzo says, he was given a chance to explain his actions only once, through an email.

With nearly 15 years of Starbucks work experience between them, Nuzzo and fellow shift supervisors Hayleigh Fagan and Michaela Wagstaff say Nuzzo was caught up in a rule they had never seen enforced. A Starbucks spokesperson in Albany declined to comment on any local incidents.

However, during the first three months of 2022, Nuzzo and the others played an active role in unionizing their store on Monroe Avenue, in the former Clover Plaza. Their push came amid a boom in union filings across Starbucks cafés nationwide, and they made national headlines alongside workers at Starbuck’s Mt. Hope Avenue location when their efforts proved successful in early April.

“Is it a coincidence that I was one of the head union organizers? Maybe, but I don’t think so,” Nuzzo says.

News of successful petitions and votes have overshadowed stories like Nuzzo’s about the anti-union behavior by the company’s leadership that employees have faced. As a unionization wave grows locally and nationally, researchers and on-the-ground workers think more of these challenges are on the horizon. Organizing efforts have taken hold at other large businesses like Apple and Amazon and the National Labor Relations Board reported a 57 percent increase in filings nationwide during the first half of fiscal year 2022 compared with the same period a year earlier.

Unionizing on the rise

According to employees at the Rochester stores, the anti-union rhetoric and tactics by Starbucks really started after workers in Buffalo and Hamburg filed for elections in August, which kicked off the ongoing nationwide filing surge. Filing actions by Starbucks-affiliated workers have spiked in recent months, rising from four filings in December 2021 to 119 in March.

“There has been a tightening of the labor market. It’s given workers much more leverage. It’s released them from the pressure of getting fired,” explains Cathy Creighton, a researcher at Cornell University’s ILR School who studies policy effects on workers. “Why worry about being fired from a crappy job when there are so many other openings?

“Essential workers were putting their lives at risk (during the COVID-19 pandemic). And I think seeing what was happening made them angry,” Creighton adds.“‘Why is Starbucks or Amazon recording record profits and I’m not sharing in that?’”

“Getting called essential without being considered essential for the past two years made a lot of things click into place for me,” says Nuzzo. “We did get hazard pay at the beginning, but that lasted for only a couple months. After the Delta variant spiked, Starbucks opened stores for indoor seating, without giving us a say. We’re the ones at risk.”

Since January 2019, of the total union representation petitions filed for Starbucks cafes and roasteries, 87 percent remain open. Of the closed filings, 34 percent resulted in the certification of a union representative, while the others were dismissed or withdrawn.

Creighton says that, in the case of unionization efforts, time is on the side of employers, who often will challenge each step of the process. 

As an example, she cites Ithaca, where Starbucks requested to use multi-location units for the union vote instead of single-store bargaining units, in an attempt to widen the eligible voter pool and prevent a successful union vote. In a similar vein, Fagan says there was an attempt to include part-time workers in the Clover-Monroe unionization decision in an effort to pack the vote.

“(Employers) know they’ll lose the argument, there’s been years of precedent set about this. It’s a delaying tactic,” Creighton says. “While they’re doing this, they’re hammering their workers with surveillance and intimidation. People can just lose enthusiasm or the will after the constant breathing down their necks.”

In an April blog post, Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz expressed a desire to have a constructive dialog with Starbucks employees, but cautioned against “the different vision being put forward by union organizers at some Starbucks stores.”

“And while not all the partners supporting unionization are colluding with outside union forces, the critical point is that I do not believe conflict, division and dissension—which has been a focus of union organizing—benefits Starbucks or our partners,” Schultz wrote.

‘They were just watching us all day’

Fagan says Area Operations Manager Trista Simmers was carrying out her routine of checking workers’ time cards when she first took notice of Nuzzo clocking in alone. 

Simmers also wrote him up for having his mask pulled down alongside other workers, all fully vaccinated, before the store was open in a separate incident. Wagstaff says this was roughly four days before the company lifted its masking policy.

It was Marcus Rainford, manager of operations and continuous improvement at the company, who told Nuzzo that he was fired. Rainford came from California under the stated goal of improving store efficiency, but the organizers say he and other corporate managers like Simmers periodically came into the store to surveil workers and counter union messaging.

Rainford’s and Simmers’ arrival was before the Brighton café workers decided to organize, but Fagan says their presence was preemptive.

“They were also watching us while corporate was in Buffalo,” she says. “Like, they had us flagged as an area that might potentially try to organize, so there were a lot of support managers coming into our stores being like, ‘What can we do to help you?’”

The managers posed lots of questions to the workers about their experiences at the company. At one point during this period, Wagstaff, having been scheduled to work 13 shifts in a row without time off, was brought to tears when Simmers asked what she thought her coworkers said about her when she wasn’t around. She first wondered whether her coworkers were talking about her behind her back, but Simmers clarified that her colleagues expressed positive feelings about her.

“That made me really emotional because I had been working so many days in a row and it was really good to hear that my team was behind me,” Wagstaff recounts. “I started to get teary-eyed, and she’s like, ‘What’s wrong?’ And so I mentioned my predicament and she was like, ‘We’re going to get you help, we’re going to make sure that you’re supported, we’re going to make sure that the call-outs get fixed so you’re not working like this.’”

She got two days off, but the heavy scheduling returned.

“Most of the corporate promises are really empty,” Wagstaff says. “I didn’t see any change at all in my day-to-day (work) after that. It was a lot of that before we went public, coming by and promising things, but ultimately it didn’t really amount to anything.”

Organizing for change

Fagan contacted the Rochester & Vicinity Labor Council about organizing her workplace in October, and she reached out to Wagstaff and Nuzzo about the prospect in December. By January, she started collecting signatures from coworkers on union authorization cards.

The managerial presence complicated the card signings. Moving in and out of the break room to carry out hushed conversations and pass out cards, Fagan tried to keep the process under wraps, but the managers often stayed close during her shifts.

“I feel like I sound dramatic when I say they just sent managers to spy on us, but they would work whenever our actual manager couldn’t work, so they were just watching us all day,” she says.

On top of that, organizers at the Brighton location say the managers repeatedly disrupted workflows during the store’s peak hours. Wagstaff, who often worked nights, remembers reading apology after apology in the employee group chat for certain tasks not getting completed due to interruptions caused by Rainford and Simmers.

They frequently worked alongside Fagan while she was cashiering or taking drive-through orders, even when she did not need help, and they also assigned fewer people than normal to bar stations. Fagan recalls a time when Rainford made her stand back and direct others during peak hours despite being asked to help by her coworkers.

“He pulled me off the floor, he wouldn’t let me help anyone,” she says. “Someone should be making espresso drinks for drive-through, someone should be making espresso drinks for cafe and mobile orders, and someone should be making all of the cold drinks. He made one person make all of those drinks, and he had me standing in the corner pointing at him. He was asking me for help and I couldn’t go help him.”

Wagstaff believes the disruptive management decisions reflect Starbucks’ idea that workers’ discontent is due to store managers not following corporate standards.

“I think that they think it’s just a matter of management not doing things correctly and that’s why partners are unhappy,” she says. “Realistically, we can make that decision for ourselves. I think that right now I have the best management I’ve ever had, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t want better pay and better benefits.”

Fagan says the intense harassment only eased off a couple days before the unionization vote. Now it has transitioned to Starbucks corporate warning employees from transferring to her store.

The logic behind their decisions remains unclear, as Rainford and Simmers did not respond to requests for comment for this article. However, a Starbucks representative gave this response to the unionization efforts:

“We will become the best version of Starbucks by co-creating our future directly as partners. And we will strengthen the Starbucks community by upholding each other’s dreams; upholding the standards and rituals of the company; celebrating partner individuality and voice; and upholding behaviors of mutual respect and dignity.”

Firing and backfiring

What is clear, however, is that the managers’ actions actually helped push the workers closer together.

The organizers benefitted from having a close-knit store, Fagan says. Their support system fostered an environment in which workers felt comfortable talking about their encounters with management, which brought them together based on shared experiences.

“Starbucks is kind of a funny social experience because you’re working with the same 10 people for 40 hours a week, you naturally get to know each other really well. The more you know someone, the more you care about them,” Wagstaff says.

Nothing seemed to move the union support needle more than Nuzzo’s firing.

Largely working night shifts, Wagstaff had little personal contact with Rainford, but she was witness to the firing and the immediate aftermath. She says it went a long way to color her opinion.

It was March 21, and she showed up around noon, right when Nuzzo’s shift was ending. Store Manager Ray Ballard told Nuzzo to stick around so Rainford could talk to him. Nuzzo ended up staying clocked in for a full hour past the end of his shift until the manager arrived.

They sat in the cafe. Suddenly, Wagstaff heard Nuzzo raise his voice, not quite yelling.

“He’s like, ‘Five years with the company and I’ve never missed a day of work, I’ve never been sick, I’ve never called out, and I must have been five minutes late one time and I’m getting fired?‘” she recounts, remembering the tears that ran down her cheeks as she continued making sandwiches.

Nuzzo admits he used “colorful language” with Rainford, which led to a lifetime ban.  

“It’s the craziest thing in the world to me that you can be fired for being early to work,” says Wagstaff, who comforted Nuzzo in his car afterward. “The way that we understand it, that policy is supposed to be protection for partners, but I think it’s far more dangerous to be standing outside at four in the morning. Really also something that I haven’t seen enforced in the past. I’ve never known anybody to get fired for it.”

Fagan confirms the lack of prior enforcement of the rule, and both she and Wagstaff say they have entered stores alone before opening without any repercussions.

In the wake of the incident, Rainford pulled employees into the back room and conducted one-on-ones, during which he would explain his side of the firing, Fagan says. The prospect of losing their jobs left the workers worried, but they stayed united.

“We were all just really upset and in this state of despair after it happened,” Wagstaff says. “For lack of a better term, we were trauma-bonded by it. A lot of baristas were asking after, ‘What’s going to happen to us? Are we going to be fired for something like putting a rag on the counter by accident?’”

Throughout this period, Fagan made a point of keeping communication open with coworkers who seemed to be on the fence to gauge their concerns and needs. Only outwardly pro-union workers were looped into conversations before they went public with the filing.

“There were some people who were nos or on the fence when we filed that actually ended up voting yes,” she says. “Those kinds of conversations really helped, especially when corporate was heavily in the store, right next to us, harassing us. Just having that support system of people to fall back on and be like, ‘Hey, that was like fucked up, right? This isn’t okay, they can’t do this to us, right?’”

Ultimately, the union organizing effort succeeded. On April 7, by a 10-3 vote, the Monroe Avenue store became the 13th unionized Starbucks in the country. Fagan says it always seemed like the vote would be successful, but a lot of people on the fence were convinced to vote in favor by the anti-union actions, including Nuzzo’s firing.

“I hate to call myself a martyr, but I know that if anything, (my firing) isn’t scaring the workers. It’s lighting a flame,” says Nuzzo.

@sbworkersunited You know what they say… winner’s win 🙂 #thirteenunionstarbucks #unionizestarbucks #unionyes #sbworkersunited ♬ Just a Cloud Away – Pharrell Williams

A youthful labor movement

The store’s petition-drive leaders agree that shared generational experiences with economic struggles are part of the reason they gained an interest in labor organizing.

“Some of my earliest formative memories, besides watching ‘Powerpuff Girls,’ is hearing my parents stress out about the (2007-09) recession,” says Fagan, a 22-year-old Rochester native. “I grew up with an assumption that, ‘Oh, this is what the world is like.’ For other people in their twenties, I’m sure that’s not uncommon. We’re trying to deal with these global crises that never seem to stop.”

Identifying as an “old millennial” at 35 years old, Nuzzo says he was not interested in politics or labor organizing until Bernie Sanders launched his presidential run in 2015. The company’s treatment of workers during the pandemic also helped shape much of his thinking.

Sanders tweeted his congratulations to the unionized stores in Rochester and Buffalo in April and most recently expressed solidarity with Starbucks organizers in Burlington, Vt.

“Young people have taken it on the chin. The American dream is not really working out for them the same way it did for their parents,” Creighton says, citing a combination of ballooning student loan costs, economic recessions, and income inequality as issues this generation has had to grapple with.

Fifty-four percent of college students who graduated in 2019 from New York institutions had student debt, carrying an average of nearly $30,000 worth, according to a study by the Institute for College Access and Success. In 1996, the inflation-adjusted nationwide average was slightly less than $13,000.

In 2020, the Pew Research Center found the share of U.S. aggregate income going to upper-income households has risen by nearly 20 percent since 1970 while the middle-income portion has fallen by the same percentage and the lower-income share has remained stagnant. Each decade since 1971 has also seen a decrease in the share of adults living in middle-income households.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson’s salary rose from $14 million to $20 million in 2021. Johnson announced his retirement this March. Howard Schultz, who built Starbucks into one of the world’s top brands, returned to serve as interim CEO.

“With significant pressures leading to the fracturing of our partner and customer experiences, I’ve been transparent about our missteps and the reason for my return—to reimagine Starbucks—built on our core values and guiding principles,” Schultz wrote in his April blog post.

Overall, the local organizers are hopeful for the future. Wagstaff, 25, is optimistic about job security, better pay and benefits, guaranteed hours, and improved college assistance that union membership may bring.

“I came from a low-income family. Going to college felt impossible for me,” says Wagstaff, who hopes that a more comprehensive tuition reimbursement plan will allow her to attend Rochester Institute of Technology and study political science.

Even Nuzzo, who was fired, still finds positives in his experience. For one, he will be sitting on the negotiating board now.

“I see this as the starting point. It’s bigger than Rochester, bigger than Buffalo. It’s bigger than Starbucks too,” says Nuzzo. “I want it to go on to Dunkin, McDonalds, Burger King, you name it. I want them to see what we’re doing and maybe see how it can work for them too.”

Justin O’Connor is a sophomore at the University of Rochester. Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. 

The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

12 thoughts on “A hard-fought labor victory 

  1. This article documents what union organizers always knew, that just about the best union organizers have always been bad bosses and bad employers.

  2. It is quite a marvel that Howard Schultz and Starbucks took a commodity (a cup of coffee that you used to be able to buy at any diner around here for $.35 back in the 70s, where the waitress usually made minimum wage+tips) and turned it into a multi billion, multi national company that has employed thousands of people, enriched many IRAs and 401Ks of people that owned the stock, gave employees access to a college education (via University of Phoenix) along with elevated pay &benefits. A few years back Mr. Schultz let it be whispered that he might be interested in running for President. You would think with what he has accomplished (his modest beginnings, and his general background as a left-wing CEO) that there would be supporters out there (especially from the recent indoctrinated snowflake products of our education system) Unfortunately the opposite happened, he found himself in front of groups of young people rudely admonishing him with chants like “we don’t need another billionaire”, and go “back to Davos” etc . If my life goal was Cadillac benefits and free RIT tuition, I think I’d look into a different career than slinging coffee. Union organizers can lever NYS and Fed rules to organize some of these shops, but ultimately fail against innovation (which Starbucks happens to be good at), automation, contract workers etc. You are already seeing push back via employees in non-union stores receiving enhanced compensation not given to their Union counterparts. Unions have had a place in our labor history , especially back in the 30s to prevent forcing 12 yr olds from unloading rail cars for $.25. They are not equipped in the 21st century to make a boutique coffee shop more boutique…..

  3. I haven’t been frequenting Starbucks because their prices are too high. With the Unionization, I’m guessing the prices will even be higher.

  4. Prices do not have to necessarily to be higher with unionization. A number of economists have examined the data on our current inflation and state only about 8% of it is due to increased labor costs. Somewhere between 38% and 40% is still due to supply lines and shortages related to globalization. The rest are the big boys and stockholder “opportunities”. Our largest supplier of meat has already been fined about $50 million for price fixing and other trust violations. I find Denmark the most interesting as it may have the highest private sector unionization at 67% of workers, compared to 8% here. As of January 2022, McDonalds in Denmark paid $22 per hour with 6 weeks paid vacation plus a pension. As with the other civilized countries healthcare is provided for all and all contribute to costs, which are also regulated. Here McDonalds pays an average of $10 per hour with no paid time off or other benefits. The price of a Big Mac in Denmark is $4.82 while it is $5.81 in the U.S.

    • Not sure what is meant by “The rest are the big boys and stockholder “opportunities”? or what it has to do with inflation ? If it has had something to do with inflation shouldn’t that relationship be somewhat severed now since as of today the stock market is ~16% down from its all time high? IMO using Western Europe as a benchmark for anything to do with US economics is misguided at best. This is a continent where it has been proved numerous times (including today) that it can’t even defend itself without the generous support of the US taxpayer (it would arguably be a German or Russian speaking continent w/o Uncle Sam’s oversight in the 20th century). To cherry-pick some stats from a socialist leaning economy with confiscatory taxes, a lower standard of living, and a higher level of government control of the economy , while its defense backbone is outsourced to across the Atlantic is a mis-analogy in my view.

      • Of course, higher unionization/wages lead to higher Labor costs, but they also lead to higher standards of living. Fast food is considered a decent benchmark as it tends to be labor intensive. The stats for other high wage democracies and McDonalds are similar, not only in Europe, but in Australia and Japan. Please see where unionization is the lowest, all right to work states, and these are the poorest states with the lowest standard of living. Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia and so on. They also have higher rates for poverty, drug addiction, suicide, deaths due to no health care, and the list goes on. Until the pandemic money, these states also received billions more in Federal dollars than they paid in taxes, with the Blue States, with higher unionization, including NY, pay their bills. The problem is the free-market capitalists will tell you it is Labor costs that are the main driver, and they are not. It is not paying middle class prevailing wages in Orchard Park that is the problem. Those wages are part of an expanding and healthy economy. The problem is giving someone nearly a billion in tax dollars for his private business who has $ 5.4 billion, and once the construction is done the economic activity generated, especially for 9 home games, does not justify the expense. There are a number of sources that claim their data, and print that data, that wage increases for workers are 8% to 10% of the current inflation. Executives’ pay and company profit increases are at least 50% of the current inflation, with the rest being things like the supply chain issues. The top 1% increased their wealth by about $ 1.8 trillion during the pandemic.
        You will get no argument from me that our Defense budget is too high, and there are many reasons, both good, (the arsenal for democracy), and bad (colonialization-see Smedley Butler). However, we have not had the highest standard of living for the majority of Americans for many years. Child poverty, average worker pay, health care, homelessness and incarceration rates are all the worst or near the worst here than other in high income democracies. It also seems to me that defense is less outsourced to us by other countries, than we want to be the most powerful military nation with troops in 140 countries and the main presence on every continent. We are also a socialist leaning democracy/economy.
        Here we just have more socialism for the rich and less for working people. See Bills Stadium, Bank and corporate bailouts, and how much the government subsidized Musk and Bezos, to name a couple. Socialism is almost all infrastructure, police, firefighters, public education, SS, Medicare and our Military are all paid by the government/taxpayers, and much more. Returning back to inflation and the part that is higher wages, I leave with this-” In regard to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those other people.”
        Adam Smith, author of “The Wealth of Nations”, and as you know, often referred to as the Bible of Capitalism.

    • You don’t expect me to believe Unionization doesn’t lead to significant higher labor costs(wages ,& benefits). The public employee unions in NYS have created some of the highest taxation in the US, the pending wages for the new stadium in Orchard Park, the steel industry, auto industry, etc. You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig!

      • James Vincent Bertolone- I’d challenge several aspects of your thesis here. You can artificially jack up wages in the fast food biz and feel good (with unintended consequences). However in the long run, it incentivizes the Company to find other ways to reduce labor costs. These include hire less people (thus less entry level jobs, less opportunities for kids to build a resume and develop good work habits), and further automation of the industry . Union levered wages don’t do anyone any good if the job has been eliminated. You mention allegedly poor “right-to-work” States, you conveniently left out Florida, which I know first hand is booming economically. Also if these States you mention are the dregs of the US economy, why are there masses of people from here (NYS) moving there? Census data says people are fleeing this “Blue State” Union paradise. I’m always stunned that people view Fed tax collection as as some kind of bank that you send tax receipts to, then you are supposed to attempt to get it back, and if you get more than you paid in you are somehow unethical? (I would solve this by simply letting States/people keep more money in their localities in the first place) . To the extent NYS “pays its bills”, its on the backs of its tax payers which further incentivizes the Exodus, thus further reducing tax collections in a vicious cycle leaving a higher tax burden on the remaining residents. Labor IS the biggest expense! Wages , Salaries, Pensions , and Health Care are always the biggest part of the overhead in any organization , weather its Kodak or the “Military Industrial Complex”. As a taxpayer, I don’t want to pay for Stadiums. However, that’s how Stadiums are funded these days, (I don’t believe there are any privately funded new Stadiums) . If the Bills don’t get a new stadium, somebody will buy the team and move it to where they will get funding. I’m not sure the mental stability of Western NY could tolerate that on top of the other poor economic baggage. I don’t know what the DOD has to do with “colonization”? But you people gripe a lot about the “Military Industrial Complex” and never ask why 75+yrs after WWII, and 30+ yrs after the Cold War why the US still has troops based in Europe? Why are our leaders (both parties btw) are calling for “regime change” in Moscow? Some are openly entertaining the possibility of US action beyond NATO’s eastern line? If you have a problem with the “Complex”, I’d ask those questions first.

  5. What it has to do with inflation is over 50% of inflation are price increases far exceeding increased costs. Remove the 10% richest in all countries and they have a higher standard of living than average Americans. It is not the 1950’s when European jobs and factories were destroyed. The cost of privatized healthcare, higher education, and housing here are back door taxes that often exceed “confiscatory” taxes there. Facts are pesky things. Many would also make the case that it is hard to blame our trillion-dollar Defense Budget (includes Homeland Security now) on Europe, which does contribute their fair share to NATO, and not to, at least partly, the growth of the Military-Industrial Complex. See Eisenhower.

    • “exceeding increased costs”? According to the Federal Reserve this round of inflation is caused by supply chain issues (cost is irrelevant if you can’t get the item) with a labor constraint due to the Pandemic and associated incentives. “Remove the 10% richest”? Better be careful, per the 80/20 rule they pay ~80% of the taxes (not to mention the demand they generate that provides employment opportunities for the rest of us ) . If you have spent any time in Western Europe, by the size of the cars (if they have one) and the constrained living space (our houses seem palatial to them in comparison) and the artificially high (via taxes) price of fuel for starters, they have a lower standard of living vs US. “Privatized health care” , we have Obamacare that Federalized health insurance, its free for those that can navigate the open enrollment phase. “Higher education”, apparently we’ve loaned everyone the money to pay for that and are about to forgive the loans (no burden there for the working class). The current DOD budget is <$800B. Most NATO members pay < than their 2% GDP treaty commitment (when our President demanded that they pay their commitment a few years ago he was ridiculed by the establishment) . Of course this doesn't count recent pledges from countries like Germany due to the Ukraine situation (which is akin to saying you will pay your fire dept assessment now that your house is on fire) . If you recall the NATO deployment in Afghanistan, other than England, most countries had little or no transport to get their troops there or deploy them to remote regions of the country. Germany's solders could not even patrol at night. Based on this , I still refuse to hold Western Europe to any kind of standard that the US should emulate. When Eisenhower coined the phrase "Military Industrial Complex" in '61, there was a one and it sucked a much larger percent of US GDP than it does today (<4%), and the reason there was such a Complex is that Ike built it. (btw- if you drilled into the DOD budget and put it on a pie chart, the biggest piece of the pie would be wages, salaries , pensions and health care) Talk to me when the Europeans are fully paid up and they can muster multiple Divisions on their own at NATO's front line in the east. (they can't do it now) . Then I will be impressed that they can pay a coffee slinger as much as a complex computer coder……

  6. Well Mr. Mars, I love a good discussion, but you throw a whole lot of issues out there. You like Florida, good for you. Enjoy. Personally, I would never live there, and I traveled and worked all over the country for days to a week or two at a time and I will stay in NY. As for inflation, Former Labor sec Robert Reich, the Economic Policy Institute, and other experts have claimed that 8% wage increases have caused 10% or less of inflation. About one third of workers in this country still make less than $15 an hour. At least 50% of inflation is raising prices because they can under the cover of a pandemic and inflation. They now actually have it on tape and in writing because meetings with stockholders of public companies must be recorded. In meatpacking, Agribusiness, energy, and others inflation is a “business opportunity to raise prices and profits”. There quarterly bottom lines show profits much increased over inflation. No one disputes that our billionaires became richer by about $1.8 trillion in the past two years. The percentage of their incomes paid in Federal Taxes is lower than the percentage the mailman pays, and they currently owe hundreds of billions a year that goes uncollected. This is well documented going back to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency and the head of the IRS Congressional testimony, under oath, the past two years.
    The reason I referenced Smedley Butler is exactly what the Department of Defense has to do with colonialism. The exploitation of cheap and nearly slave labor by American corporations in South America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Vietnam, Middle East oil, and around the world was protected and advanced by our Military. In my lifetime whenever those country’s people rebelled, they were labeled commies and the Cold War was the corporate cover for the exploitation. Without Domino Sugar, United Fruit, American Banks, the Mafia, and others, I doubt there would have been a Castro. The Military budget is about a trillion dollars when one adds Homeland Security, created by George W., and our Intelligence Agencies. You write as if I defend this. Fact is I railed against it in more than one of my Labor columns in the old Rochester Business Journal, including complaining about 40,000 troops still in Germany, let alone in 140 countries. Our local Labor Council was the first in Labor in the nation to call out the lies of the Bush administration on ginning up to attack Iraq, more than five months before the invasion. I was publicly called a traitor, the RBJ took a lot of heat, and bomb and death threats mailed to me were turned over to Postal Inspectors. History proved everything I said was correct. I stood up to that machine, along with millions of others, before Kent State and Jackson State, and after Kent State, and was roughly removed from a protest/sit-in by police in Hartwell Hall at Brockport State my freshman year. I did the ongoing Civil Rights protests and as an old man spoke at two Black Lives protests at the request of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, of which I am a long-time member.
    Taxes? I do not like all of them either. Property and school taxes are regressive and unfair. Those that manipulate supply and demand for housing are the biggest reason retirees leave NY. I have been reassessed twice in seven years increasing those taxes by 25% each time. The fact the only home my wife and I have ever owned, a modest 3-bedroom ranch, is reassessed, does not add a dime to my income. I have told my state reps for many years, from both parties, to give me a progressive tax in my working years but let me keep my home when I retire on a fixed income. The other problem with taxes, and it is nationwide, is religion. When I was growing up religious schools and institutions did not get tax dollars because of the First Amendment separation of church and state. I’m okay with them running their own schools so they do not pay school taxes, but not property taxes. They call the fire department, police, and use water sewer and all other infrastructure and the rest of us should not have to pay for it. The last time I spoke to State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, over five years ago, he told me 28% of the property in NY was off the tax rolls and the majority of that was property of religions. The rest of us pick that up. Everyone has the right to worship as they please but leave me out and pay for it yourselves. When it comes to public employees, they work hard, and I believe in them and their services. What I do not like on the public payroll is the number of high paid bosses, many more than there was when I was young. Look at School Superintendents and the staffs/ costs of the higher paid. Many millions of dollars in a county of 750,000 people. They can take sabbaticals for months and the work in the classroom goes on unhindered. When a teacher needs supplies or other things it is generally the clerical staff that answers the call. To conclude and in an attempt to address your concerns, I do have a problem with your denigration of low wage workers who may be “slinging coffee” or doing what you consider menial work. Like MLK, I believe all work has dignity. A gallon of gas or loaf of bread costs the same for the janitor as it does the rich person, and the janitor and their family are entitled to an adequate living for that labor. I have long advocated for farmworkers and with State Reps and for farmers as well. According to Jim Hightower, former Secretary of Agriculture of Texas, the farmer receives 15 cents out of your food dollar. The Agribusiness
    and a few large buyers set the prices, take it or leave it. It is expensive to maintain livestock and crops are perishable. I can tell you the non-rich farmer and the farmworker are not getting a significant share of the money generated by increased food prices. There is a reason many of our great musicians have been doing Farm-Aid for about forty years. I will always believe, as many economists do, that the wealth of a country’s economy is created by the productivity of its workers. In respect for your position, I will end with another quote from Adam Smith, the author of the Bible of Capitalism, “The Wealth of Nations”, ” Labor was the first price, the original purchase, money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or silver, but by Labor that all wealth of the world was originally purchased.”

    • Your characterization of taxes is slightly misleading. (Btw- Florida has no State Income tax and property taxes on your primary home domicile are capped so you don’t find yourself a victim to the NYS tax man, unlike Mr. Reich’s characterization of inflation, the NYS taxing authorities apply inflation to your assessment so they lever inflation to bleed you more, you may want to relay that to Mr. DiNapoli next time you chat with him and tell him States can be run w/o bleeding the property owners) . Again, Fed tax collections roughly follow the 80/20 rule. The top ~20% of earners pay ~80% of the taxes. To the extent wealthier people pay a lower tax rate, that is due to their income being mainly derived from Capital Gains (not income tax) . We have a lower capital gains rate compared the income tax rate to encourage investment. (Thats how we got things like the internet, smart phones, and world wide gourmet coffee chains for Unions to prey on in the first place) To characterize so called rich people as tax scofflaws is unfair Elon Musk for example paid $11B in taxes earlier this year on his stock sales (and that is on a lower than income tax rate for capital gains). If you are somehow nostalgic for the “good ol days” of the 1950s when the highest rate was allegedly 90%, bad news , nobody paid that rate, they hired tax accountants and lobbyists for effective tax avoidance. I grew up in a rural area around here, know a lot of farmers, they do have a struggle, but before we place them in the under privileged list, pls be reminded that they get very favorable tax treatment, like sales tax exemptions, lower prop tax assessments etc (they have the best tax deal of any biz in NYS) . Which is why you see a lot of your so called rich people villains opening wineries around here (they are technically agricultural and enjoy very favorable tax treatment in NYS). I’m not critical of the tax privilege, because I like to eat. If it wasn’t for the Church tax exemption, there would be no Churches, they certainly couldn’t pay the current uncapped prop tax around here from the collection plate proceeds. If you want to be a annoyed tax payer, you should join me in questioning why we are paying most all municipal employees a NYS backed state pension in lieu of a 401K, you are correct about high paid people in this system, if you want to get really annoyed and see how much you are paying them, have a look at the Data section of the D&C, they list the retired employees by name in the pension system and how much they are paid. (You can look up what you are paying your fellow residents to winter in Florida) Mr. Reich is a adorable little non-capitalist midget, but he is a political hack, frankly his accusations of price gouging aren’t credible with me especially since rampant inflation is a recent phenomenon (the evil corps would of had to pull out the price fixing conspiracy out of the vault and execute it pretty quickly, they just don’t move that fast) . If you think US Corporations are employing slave labor all over the world , you need to report it to the US Dept of Commerce and the State Dept immediately. (You might be able to make such a case against the Communist Chinese). I could add the Congressional office supply outlay to the Defense budget, it wouldn’t make the DOD number any more accurate. I’m not anti-NATO, but I’m stunned that many of our fellow citizens have no clue why the US is still its backbone 75+ years after WWII. You should of joined the discussion on the article about if Rochester could survive a nuke war (published here last month) .If you are unhappy, you should of owned some assets over the last 5 years, if you had you would be able to cover your tax bill in this blue state union paradise…. (after NYS got their piece….)

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