Workers from independent coffee shops and Starbucks locations around Massachusetts gathered at a rally in Cambridge on Sunday, representing a state-wide coalition at the forefront of a rapidly-growing labor movement across the country.

“Coffee workers and food service workers in Boston, we have the momentum,” Maria Suevo, a barista at the Coolidge Corner Starbucks, told a crowd of more than 100 people gathered in the Cambridge Common. “We have the knowledge and the power to persist and escalate so that we all have contracts that we deserve.”

Suevo’s location in Brookline was one of two Starbucks shops to secure a union victory earlier this month and the first in the state to win following an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Four more stores in Watertown, Cleveland Circle, Lower Allston and Mission Hill are scheduled to hold union elections Tuesday.

Pavement Coffeehouse employees Marco de Laforcade, 22, Angie Muse, 19, Mary Kate McGeary, 23, and Julia Lieto, 22, rally on International Worker's Day in the Cambridge Common, May 1, 2022
Tori Bedford GBH News

As the movement has grown, Starbucks workers in Boston and around the country have alleged that Starbucks management has retaliated against pro-union workers by cutting shifts, firing employees and placing corporate employees in stores to supervise day-to-day operations.

Starbucks denies its local stores are retaliating against employees engaged in organizing a union, actions that would violate federal labor laws.

“We need to work together against union busting,” Suevo told the crowd Sunday. “It's going to take all of us together. This is my call to action: we need to be in connection with each other.”

Out of nearly 300 Starbucks locations organizing union efforts with the Worker’s United labor union across the country, 16 are located in Massachusetts, working in lockstep with a smaller movement of independent coffee shops and food service businesses.

At the rally Sunday, workers demanded higher wages, benefits including healthcare and a safer environment for employees, a concern they say has escalated in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID pandemic has shown broader society who does the critical work and works to keep our society running every day,” Emilia Morgan, a barista at the Watertown Starbucks, told the crowd. “But the pandemic has also made it clear that our bosses will put profit above all else, including our lives.”

Toia Chester, 33, of IBEW 103, speaks to a crowd gathered on the Cambridge Common, Sunday, May 1, 2022
Tori Bedford GBH News

Rallies for worker’s rights, including two for food service and coffee shop employees, were held at seven locations around the state on Sunday in honor of International Worker’s Day.

Pavement Coffeehouse employees, who moved to form a union in June of last year, kicked off a wave of local, independent businesses now in the process of union negotiation, also including Darwin's, Diesel, Bloc and Forge, City Feed, and Phinista. At the rally, baristas from Pavement stood holding signs that read “solidarity with coffee workers” and “stop union busting.”

Sam White, a barista from Darwin’s in Cambridge, described the motivation behind a seven-minute walkout conducted by Darwin’s employees last month in response to what they say have been “stalled” contract negotiations.

“When the workers of Darwin's United walked out, we did not do so on a whim,” White said. “We carefully and strategically chose to maximize power in the bargaining room, and we did not let fear hold us back. We acted, and we did so as one. And we will do it again and again and again, together as a union until this fight is won.”

Coffee workers were joined by unions from around the state, including the Greater Boston Labor Council, the Greater Boston Building and Trades Unions and the Boston Teachers Union.

Toia Chester, an electrician and member of IBEW 103, emphasized the role of Boston in a larger national labor movement, including a union victory for workers at an Amazon warehouse in New York earlier this month.

“All you coffee workers, if you think that you haven't given those Amazon workers in New York inspiration to unionize against the largest corporation in the entire world, you’re dumb,” Chester said. “You have inspired the entire country to continue this movement.”