.Starbucks Union Organizer Running For City Council

Joe Thompson hopes to represent Santa Cruz's District 5

Joe Thompson, who led efforts two years ago to bring the first union representation to a Starbucks in California, is aiming their sights at the District 5 seat on the Santa Cruz City Council.

Thompson, who uses the pronouns they/them, was born in the Sacramento area. They moved to Santa Cruz in 2021 to attend UC Santa Cruz, where they are majoring in politics and minoring in environmental studies. 

Thompson plans to have graduated by March election, finishing a few quarters early.

“I love Santa Cruz and I plan to spend my life, build my family and home here,” Thompson said in a press release. “I’m running for Santa Cruz City Council District 5 to make our community more beautiful for generations to come.” 

If elected, Thompson said they plan to work on making the streets safer, creating more affordable housing, protecting the environment, protecting working people and supporting local businesses over corporations.

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“Workers not only need a voice, they deserve a voice and I plan to give them one,” they said.

Thompson said their work to unionize the Starbucks in Santa Cruz—which became final in May 2022—laid the foundation for their political ambitions. 

“That was an example of how I can bring people together and recognize that working class people need to be united and should have an opportunity to afford and live safely in Santa Cruz,” Thompson said.

If elected, part of Thompson’s constituency would be UC Santa Cruz, which they said makes up one-third of Santa Cruz’s population. In addition to giving a voice to the students, the district includes seniors and working-class families. All of these face the most expensive rental market in the nation, Thompson said.

“It’s hard for people to afford to live here, and to me that shouldn’t be the case,” they said. “Addressing our affordable housing crisis head-on is definitely going to be a major priority of mine.”

Thompson would support the county’s future plans to create passenger rail, as it aligns with their belief that the city should create more equitable and green transportation systems.

“I don’t know what our city is going to look like, I don’t know what our world is going to look like, because our climate disaster has gotten out of hand,” they said. 

Thompson mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the 28th Assembly District in June 2022, in which Gail Pellerin and Liz Lawler came out on top. Later, they worked on Pellerin’s campaign for the runoff election the following November, in which she trounced Lawler with more than 68% of the vote.

“Having her mentorship, and being able to learn from her directly has really informed me,” they said.

And while Thompson has narrowed their focus to a more local seat, their reasons for running have not changed.

“I want to give people a voice and represent our beautiful community,” they said. 

With the election still eight months away, Thompson has already picked up a list of endorsements from such federal, state and local lawmakers, in addition to unions and nonprofits.

While some may look at Thompson’s relative youth as a disadvantage, they said their experience speaks for itself.

They serve on the Santa Cruz County Substance Use Disorder Services Commission, advocating for increased awareness of fentanyl and xylazine overdoses and how to address the uptick in the opioid epidemic.

Thompson also worked alongside Aisha Wahab, who was recently elected to the 10th Senate District.

“My whole job is making government work for people, and helping them utilize resources,” they said. “To me, government isn’t this big burden or Big Brother coming after you. It is a resource that needs to be utilized. And the elected officials can help bridge those gaps and help you when you need it.”


Thompson’s campaign launch party will take place at Harvey West Park, on Sept. 9th from 2 to 4 pm. For information, visit VoteJoeThompson.com


  1. Joe Thompson is also endorsed by our local DSA group (Who uses DSA for Bernie, as in Bernie Sanders endorses anything they do in Santa Cruz—I think not!).

    I wonder why this wasn’t mentioned? Oh, it might be a detriment to his campaign if people knew that going in.

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