Thrift store

Why a Rhodes Scholar’s Ambition Led Her to Starbucks

One Friday in late February, Ms. Brisack and another barista, Casey Moore, met in the two-bedroom rental Ms. Brisack shares with three cats, to talk union strategy over breakfast. Naturally, the conversation turned to coffee.

“Jaz has a very barista drink,” Ms. Moore said.

Ms Brisack explained: ‘It’s four shots of ristretto blond – it’s a lighter roast of espresso – with oat milk. It’s basically an iced latte with oat milk. If we had sugar-cookie syrup, I’d get it. Now that this is no longer the case, it is generally clear.

That afternoon, Ms. Brisack held a Zoom call from her living room with a group of Starbucks employees who wanted to unionize. It’s a drill she and other Buffalo organizers have repeated hundreds of times since last fall, as workers across the country sought to follow their lead. But in almost every case, Starbucks workers outside of Buffalo contacted the organizers, rather than the other way around.

This particular group of workers, in Ms. Brisack’s college town of Oxford, Mississippi, seemed to demand even less of a hard sell than most. When Ms. Brisack said she, too, had attended the University of Mississippi, one of the workers waved her off, as if her fame had preceded her. “Oh, yes, we know jazzexclaimed the worker.

Hours later, Ms. Brisack, Ms. Moore and Michelle Eisen, a longtime Starbucks employee also involved in the organizing, met with two union lawyers at the union’s office in a former car factory. The National Labor Relations Board was counting ballots for an election at a Starbucks in Mesa, Arizona — the first real test of whether the campaign was taking root nationwide, and not just in a labor stronghold like New York. The room was tense as the first results came in.

“Can you feel my heart beating?” Ms. Moore asked her colleagues.