By Gabriela Resto-Montero
UNION SQUARE — Starbucks employees and part-timers were given either time-and-a-half or a paid day off on Martin Luther King Day for the first time, which representatives from Manhattan's Starbucks Union took credit for.
The union, the first to form at Starbucks, led a celebration Monday in Union Square to commemorate the benefits and King's legacy, as they toasted the coffee giant committing $1.2 million to pay its baristas a holiday rate.
Union organizer Liberte Locke said that the victory would have made Dr. King proud.
"He fought for union organizers," Locke said. "He would be here if he could, that's my firm belief."
Organizers estimated that Starbucks would spend $1.2 million nationwide to pay its baristas the holiday rate.
Starbucks representatives, however, said that recognizing MLK day as a holiday was part of broad package of benefits outlined in November that had nothing to do with the union.
"Any time something happens whether good or bad they seem to think they had something to do with it," said Stacey Krum, a spokeswoman with Starbucks, of the union.
Individual partners at Starbucks stores can join the union once they form a shop with one or more colleagues, Locke said.
But the Starbucks Workers Union does not represent a single individual store and its reach is limited, Krum said.
"That group is small-based and they've been trying to get our employees to join for six years," she said.
Krum said Starbucks pushed to include MLK day as a paid holiday in response to parnter concerns that were expressed either through managers or through the company's "My Starbucks Idea" employee website.
Following a sparkling cider toast to Starbucks for recognizing King's birthday, demonstrators marched to Astor Place where two baristas there announced they, too, had joined the union.
"We would just like to be treated like human beings and not machines," Cason Bolton, a barista at the Astor Place store, said in a statement.
Cory Wright, a seven-year barista at 10 Union Square and father of three, said that the union was urging the company to provide more consistent work hours for parents trying to raise a family.
"We're going to be putting a lot of work in," Wright said.
The union's celebration came as Starbucks announced a new 31-ounce drink size for iced coffee and iced tea drinks — the "Trenta".