Group for higher minimum wage plans protests at coffee shops

by: Monique Ming Laven Updated:

Protestors hope to convince workers to walk off their jobs and force some businesses to close.

You might want to fire up your coffee maker Monday morning because demonstrators may be all fired up at your local café. The group Working Washington has its eye on big coffeehouses like Starbucks in a mass demonstration for a higher minimum wage.

The group has already staged demonstrations in May and earlier this month.  First they protested wage theft, then they started the big push to get minimum wage increased to fifteen dollars per hour.  That would be a 63 percent increase from Washington's current $9.19 per hour wage, which is the highest in the country. 

The group says millions of fast food workers have to get government subsidies because even holding multiple minimum wage jobs does not cover everything.  And they say baristas have the same problem. "We need to be on a living wage," said Coulson Loptmann, who recently got fired from Starbucks. "I was working as much as I could, and I would still be on food stamps."

Zack Hutson, with Starbucks Communications says Starbucks pays competitive wages and also offers comprehensive benefits package that many other retailers do not offer to part-time or full-time hourly workers - like affordable health care, company stock, eligibility for merit increases every six months, tuition reimbursement, and paid vacation after a year of service.

But Liam Wright, a barista at Victrola on Capitol Hill says he'll still be out Thursday fighting for all baristas.  He says workers at cafes like his actually make more money because their tips are higher, but even his wages are not enough.  In between expertly steaming milk and decorative foam on lattes, he explained how he plans to head out Thursday and catch baristas before they head in for their morning shifts.  "I'm going to help convince other people to walk off the job," he said.  First priority: convince employees to strike.  Second priority:  convince customers to walk away.  And what Liam's really hoping for:  "Shut down some businesses."

Organizers are planning to meet early in the morning-- before the fast food breakfast rush-- and assign demonstrators to different fast food restaurants and cafes to protest.  They plan to continue the demonstrations through lunch rush and into the early evening as well.

Similar demonstrations will happen in 20 cities around the country.