Once I had that concept down, I just kind of tooled with mechanics in Affinity Publisher [a graphic design program], then play-tested it with a friend and with myself to kind of round out the edges of an impossible battle. I lowered the time that mandates took to stack, and I increased the rate that players can win by, because I don’t want this to be an impossible battle. I want players to play “Cosmic Latte” and see themselves unionizing. And hopefully that could inspire talks with our co-workers and peers about a lot of the same topics.
TV: Chicago is full of rich labor history, it’s a union town. I’d be interested to hear what the community response was like when your local Starbucks closed down right before these workers were set to bargain?
PA: To set the scene, the Bryn Mawr Starbucks was a busy and effective community hub. It was in this 1929 Egyptian art deco building that I think is one of the most beautiful parts of the neighborhood. It was well-placed on public transit lines to allow workers to get to the store and also allow people to get a drink before they commuted somewhere else. It was busy, and for it to be closed with such suddenness felt like a rug being pulled out.
The community that I have seen responded to it with similar levels of anger as workers who were fighting to unionize – and once the workers got there, they were prevented from getting to the next step that they deserved.
TV: Have you had the chance to talk to any Starbucks workers about your game or attend any sort of solidarity events?
PA: I signed the “No Contract, No Coffee” pledge that Starbucks Workers United is handing around to stay up-to-date about Starbucks in my area and what labor actions that workers are having. I participated in a “sip-in” where I got a cup that I ordered under the name “Union Strong” – they put “Union Strog,” which I love as a character to name in a future tabletop campaign! I hope to join a picket line.
Before this game was released, I reached out to a Starbucks Workers United representative and said, “I want to be able to somehow fund the transfer of people out of this Starbucks that is being shuttered… to whatever jobs they head to next, what’s the best mechanism to do that?” We spoke a bit about that and finally decided on the Starbucks Workers Solidarity Fund.
TV: Aside from the store that just closed down, there are currently six unionized Starbucks in Chicago alone, with another one literally filing less than a month ago. Starbucks stores across the country seem to be organizing a union almost every week, and these workers are also predominantly young people. What do you think is fueling young workers to be labor leaders?
PA: There’s so many answers to this and definitely ask someone smarter than me. I’ve heard some old people say that when they hear unions, they think Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters, they go back to like, decades-old examples of union indiscretion and mismanagement… but I think what that leaves out of the conversation is that my generation, Gen Z, has grown up in a world where every other mechanism of power has been corrupted. We have been fighting our universities’ endowments to stop them from funding private prisons. We’ve been watching our employers stagnate wages or remove benefits, despite rising profits.
A lot of young people are flocking to unionization because it is a form of direct democracy and collective power that we have been starved of in so many other angles and systems of our life – that has just dramatically worsened our generations’ wages, savings, healthcare. I’m really proud to see so many young people beside me, many that I know, head into Amazon, head into Starbucks and keep organizing these spaces.
TV: Do you have any further plans for “Cosmic Latte,” or other tabletop roleplay games that touch on issues as relevant and important as the ongoing labor movement?
PA: This is a question that I’d love to give back to readers and say, “Are there any labor organizers out there that want tabletop games?” Because this was a very fulfilling experience, even the small portion that I was able to discuss with the Starbucks Workers United… I’d love it if this was the first of many labor and union-focused games I helped design.
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