Cornell Students Protest to Kick Starbucks Off Campus

Cornell Students protesting to pressure the university to end their contract with Starbucks and stop selling Starbucks products on campus until the corporation stops union-busting and agrees to cooperate with Starbucks Workers United.

In the days following a Starbucks announcement that every one of their corporate-owned locations in the City of Ithaca — all of which are unionized — would be closing on May 26, Cornell students started a campaign to pressure the University to stop selling Starbucks products on campus and find a more ethical coffee vendor before the fall semester begins. In addition, they have called on the university to make its contract with Starbucks public.

With these demands, students at Cornell University are joining students at the University of California as the first two schools in the country to call for cutting ties with Starbucks until the corporation stops union-busting and agrees to cooperate with Starbucks Workers United — which has successfully unionized 300 Starbucks locations across the country.

A statement in support of the campaign signed by students, faculty and community members said that “by selling Starbucks products…Cornell is actively using students’ tuition to support rampant union-busting.” The statement continues saying, “If Starbucks wants out of Ithaca, Ithaca wants nothing to do with Starbucks.”

The students began demonstrating by setting up tables outside of a Cornell dining hall to sell coffee from the local Gimme! Coffee stores in the city in order to raise money to support striking Starbucks workers. However, the university called the police to shut down the operation because it was taking business away from dining halls and cafès on campus.

Students then took their demonstrations to Day Hall, which houses university administration offices, and announced that they would be occupying the building until their demands were met. Students remained in the building until being kicked out by university police just after 9 p.m. on May 11. 

Following their removal students set up tents to camp outside of the building. Throughout the night, students could be seen studying for finals as they refused to stop occupying the grounds in support of labor rights. Many of the students are part of Cornell’s International Labor Relations (ILR) school and members of Starbucks Workers United. 

Cornell ILR student and SBWU member, Nick Wilson 26’, tweeted “We were removed from Day Hall by police under the threat of disciplinary action — so we’re camping out across the street until the building reopens tomorrow morning.”

Students began occupying the building again when it opened at 8 a.m. on May 12. Just before 11 a.m. The Cornell Daily Sun reported that Vice President of Campus Life at Cornell, Ryan Lombardi and Dean of Students Marla Love “met with the demonstrators to mediate the situation.”

Lombardi and Love made an agreement with the demonstrators to set up a meeting with University President Martha Pollack and four student representatives at 1 p.m. on the condition that the occupation of Day Hall would come to an end. 

In response, demonstrators gave a list of conditions for the meeting which included information about the procedure to end the current contract with Starbucks, confidentiality clauses, the stakeholders who can terminate the contract, and a demand for a follow up meeting to be scheduled by May 15 and take place before May 31.

Lombardi told demonstrators that President Pollack would agree to disclose the end date of Starbucks contract with the university, along with information about confidentiality clauses, stakeholders for termination, and scheduling a follow up meeting. However, Pollack said that some aspects of the contract would remain undisclosed due to non-disclosure clauses.

Following the meeting, The Cornell Daily Sun reported that the university's contract with Starbucks is scheduled to expire in 2025 and that Pollack “emphasized the administration would reconsider the contract.” However, Pollack and Lombardi refused to comment on their personal opinion regarding the actions taken by Starbucks.

In response to the commitments made by administration during the meeting, Wilson told the Daily Sun, “We are appreciative with the verbal commitments by the administration to hold the meeting with the stakeholders to have the ability to make a decision pertaining to the contract…We really hope they honor that commitment [and] if they do not, student action will continue to make public the will of Cornell students that we think it’s unacceptable what Starbucks is doing in Ithaca.”

Fourth Ward Common Council member Jorge DeFendini congratulated the organizers in a tweet saying, “Solidarity and praise to the courageous students who stood up to their administration in solidarity with their [Starbucks] Union neighbors in the greater Ithaca Community. You just demonstrated what coming together as students and locals should look like.”

For now students have agreed to end their occupation of Day Hall, but they have vowed to “reconsider occupying the hall” if administration fails to schedule a follow up meeting by May 15.

(1) comment

Joe Fischer

Here's an idea: Get everyone on campus to stop drinking coffee at campus Starbucks. We called this a "boycott" and there isn't much of anything the university can do it.

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