Today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette featured an article (syndicated from the Wall Street Journal) that documents attempts to unionize at the nation’s Starbucks: Do hot coffee and ‘Wobblies’ go together?

Starbucks ranked #29 on Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, and they are very sensitive about their brand image and integrity with consumers. This image includes fair employee pay and benefits in addition to socially-friendly causes, such as their adoption of Fair Trade coffees and recycled paper cups.

However, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) has adopted a strategy to pierce Starbucks’ corporate image armor. As an IWW organizer put it, “Starbucks has anointed itself a leader in employee health care but the fact remains that a lower percentage of its employees are insured than at Wal-Mart.” And Starbucks doesn’t dispute the figures, citing a disproportionately young work force.

The pressure on labor practices at Starbucks is bound to increase, despite their current image — not wholly unlike what has happened recently with Wal-Mart. Starbucks’ expansion strategy relies heavily on an almost insatiable need for a growing, relatively unskilled labor force.

UPDATE: July 24, 2008
A blog published an interview yesterday with Jake Bell, one of the Starbucks baristas from the Mall of America who is leading a unionization drive with the IWW: Rhubarbarism: From the Coffee Factory: Interview with an IWW barista from the Mall of America Starbucks. Though having once been in the Mall of America back in the late 1990s, someone might do the public a greater service by instead rioting and burning the entire place to the ground.