The Starbucks cup, with its iconic green mermaid logo and smart cardboard sleeve, seems to embody the essence of the urbane yuppie lifestyle. But the carefully constructed cool of the coffee mega-brand belies some serious anger percolating beneath the surface of Starbucks’ supply chain.
That cup means something different to Ray Allen, a machine operator at a paper goods plant run by Pactiv, a major Starbucks supplier. Allen got his first full-time job at the Stockton, Calif. factory; now, more than a decade later, the steady employment has allowed him to own a home and raise a family. But it hasn’t come without cost.
“I have given [Pactiv] my blood, sweat, and tears throughout the years,” said Allen in a recent testimonial. “I have missed many events in my children’s lives for this job with no regrets. All I ask for in return is a fair contract to preserve our well-deserved and hard-earned middle-class way of life.”
Since the Stockton factory’s parent company, Dopaco, was taken over by Lake Forest, Ill.-based Pactiv in 2011, Allen’s union, Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 83, has been fighting for such a fair contract. The union says that management is pushing for unreasonable cutbacks on benefits and trying to allow temporary agency workers, hired outside the union, into the plant—a major departure from the old contract terms. They also claim the company wants to take away paid mealtimes, which they fear would significantly cut wages for a standard workweek.
The Stockton employees represent one of the last bastions of unionization in Pactiv’s workforce—just nine of its 55 facilities worldwide are union, PlasticsNews reported last year. Union representative Greg Jones says Pactiv’s proposal of hiring more temp workers, in particular, “really weakens our bargaining potential” and “only gives Pactiv the incentive to try to use more and more temp workers, at lower wages with no benefits … it eventually could be the demise of the union.” And Pactiv has a reputation for labor antagonism. In Kearny, N.J. last year, Pactiv shuttered a plant producing Reynolds-brand packaging products following months of labor clashes. The workers-—mostly Latina and Chinese women—launched a campaign accusing the company of imposing harsh working conditions, unfair layoffs and trying to bust their unionization efforts.
In Stockton, labor conditions have also declined in the last year, say workers. Ever since Pactiv’s takeover, they claim, the workload has gotten more stressful and management has gotten harsher.