Where did all the Food go?: Explaining why Zime has been experiencing item shortages.

If you frequent the coffee shop Zime here on Eastern’s campus, you’ll be aware that there’s at least one thing missing or unavailable nearly every day. Most recently, they were out of two drink sizes, multiple flavors and ingredients for drinks and some food items as well. There’s usually a list near the register indicating what’s unavailable. You’ll also know that Zime now serves Starbucks: a massive, ubiquitous coffee corporation. That is the key to why we’re experiencing shortages. 

The problem of shortages at Starbucks, and therefore Zime, is global — and geopolitical. The COVID-19 pandemic that we’re still attempting to squelch two years later has been the catalyst for enormous change in the United States and abroad. According to UNCTAD, there are two changes at play in our situation at Zime: the global supply chain crisis, and labor movements like unionization and resignation. And these affect each other as well; labor movements affect product turnaround, and then those supply shortages can make work environments so stressful that workers seriously consider walking out or unionizing. 

The Guardian explains how labor movements, like the widespread unionization and the Great Resignation (as it’s being called) are massive, and not to be underestimated. And there’s something important about Starbucks here. Bloomberg reported that Starbucks is a well-documented union-buster, which according to the National Labor Relations Act 1935, is illegal.  

Bloomberg further explained how union-busting is when workers on the ground try to unionize, their superiors — if they hear of the unionization attempts — are encouraged by corporate to make their workload as difficult as possible and inundate them with anti-union material and bullying tactics. That results in unionizers often being forced to quit or their location being closed down. It’s illegal to fire someone for unionizing, but it’s not technically illegal to drive unionizers to their breaking point.

The Associated Press reported that Starbucks is one of many, many American corporations experiencing widespread unionization efforts. More recent domestic strikes include Chevron and Amazon, and some recent international strikes have been in Germany, Turkey, Canada, and Haiti. These global labor movements, including in the United States, have been triggered by the overworking and under-recognition of workers — and widespread deaths of workers — during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is the ultimate exacerbator of the supply chain crisis. 

The New York Times explains how the issue functions like a massive Rube-Goldberg machine: if just one element is off, then it won’t work, and we at home are feeling the effects of that in the form of shortages. 

So what does that have to do with us at Zime? Well, all of this is happening far away from Eastern, and the workers we interact with at Zime are the last of many, many middlemen. If anything has gone wrong, it is very likely to be entirely out of the hands of Zime workers, and there’s absolutely nothing they can do about the shortages. I encourage us to treat them with grace and solidarity. Corporations like Starbucks end up hurting us all — consumer and worker — for the sake of profit at any cost.

Sources: UNCTAD, AP, New York Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg, National Labor Relations Board