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Exclusive: Young Union Organizers At White House For Meeting With Biden And Bernie Sanders

Labor leaders at Starbucks, SEGA and more will meet with the president and Bernie Sanders today.

President Biden will meet with young workers and union organizers at the White House on Monday, where he and Sen. Bernie Sanders will learn about the guests’ successful efforts to unionize hostile workplaces and discuss the fresh energy coursing through the American labor movement.

The meeting marks the second time that the president has invited young union activists to the White House in as many years. This year, the meeting will include workers from Starbucks, SEGA, and Minor League Baseball, whose high-profile unionization campaigns have captivated the country and brought new generations into the labor movement. 

Among the guests on Monday will be Lexi Rizzo, the 25-year-old founder of Starbucks Workers United. Rizzo, who helped lead a campaign that has now organized over 300 stores, was illegally fired this spring from her store in Buffalo, NY. Her dismissal came days after Howard Schultz, the billionaire former CEO of Starbucks, was forced by Sen. Sanders to testify about the company’s rampant union-busting in a high-profile Senate hearing. 

Joining Rizzo from Starbucks Workers United will be Graciela “Gracie” Nira, a union leader from San Antonio. During last year’s young labor summit, Biden met with Laura Garza, a Starbucks Workers United leader based in New York City. Her appearance at the White House sparked a furious response from the company, which demanded that Schultz be invited to meet with Biden as well. 

Ultimately, it was only Sanders who extended Schultz the invite to the nation’s capital, which was followed by the threat of a subpoena in order to compel the billionaire’s Senate testimony.

They’ll be joined by Mohammad Saman, a quality assurance specialist at the video game company SEGA, where the CWA just recently won a historic first election. Delushundra “Dee” Thomas, an organizer who helped the Steelworkers beat the odds and successfully organize electric bus manufacturer Blue Bird in rural Georgia, will join as well. 

The successful effort to organize the Blue Bird factory laid down an important marker as the administration’s investment into green energy and electric vehicles, through the Inflation Reduction Act, will create countless new opportunities for unions to extend their reach into the South and ensure electric vehicles are produced by union labor. 

Biden is expected to reaffirm his support for union workers, which has become a core part of his administration’s identity. The President’s NLRB, while somewhat underfunded by Congress, has proven to be the most aggressive defender of workers’ rights in several generations. Under General Counsel Jennifer Abbruzzo, the NLRB has pushed to uphold long-ignored provisions of US labor law that have served to provide a legal counterbalance to the rampant illegal union-busting that has been employed by companies such as Starbucks, Amazon, and REI.

The unionization of Minor League Baseball, achieved through years of pressure and successful appeals to the Major League Players Association, represented another massive win for the labor movement. Kumar Nambiar, a pitcher for the Lansing Lugnuts and a Minor League union rep, is also slated to join the White House meeting. So are Briana Thomas, a shipping associate for eBay’s TCGPlayer who sits on her union’s bargaining committee, and Arita Acharya, a bargaining committee member for Yale grad student union that was just organized under UNITE HERE.

A number of other labor-focused administration officials will also attend the meeting: Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su, White House National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard, and White House Director of Governmental Affairs Tom Perez, each of whom has been involved in shaping policy focused on the middle class.

The White House meeting comes as labor activity begins to spike for the third straight summer. In May, Biden offered his support to the 11,000 striking writers represented by the WGA. On Friday, his office provided similar sentiment for SAG-AFTRA and the 160,000 actors that stepped out on strike last week to demand better pay and control over their own likenesses.

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