Starbucks workers go on strike on Red Cup Day over bargaining unions

Starbucks workers across the country are ringing in the holiday season with a strike.

More than 2,000 workers at more than 100 Starbucks stores nationwide took part in their largest union action yet Thursday, protesting the company’s refusal to bargain with… union workers. They do it on The twenty-fifth day of the Red Cup, one of the company’s busiest days of the year, when Starbucks is giving away free reusable red cups with every holiday drink order. Instead of calling customers or making expensive seasonal coffee, these workers hold picket signs, talk to customers outside stores about the union, and hand out their red mugs emblazoned with a Grinch-like hand bearing on top an ornament bearing the United Workers Union logo.

While the stunned stores represent only 1 percent of the 9,000 Starbucks the company operates in the United States, its actions have been so visible to its customers and, through media coverage, to the American public, that it was Support for unions.

“With 100 stores going on strike across the country today, I think it’s definitely going to have an impact,” Ash Macomber said outside her closed store 20 minutes from Portland, Maine. “Not just with profits, but to show the company that we are stronger together, and once we take collective action, maybe change can really be made.”

A union spokesperson said the “vast majority” of the troubled stores were closed today, meaning they brought in no revenue on what is normally a very profitable day and considered the start of Starbucks’ winter break. Workers used words such as “unusual” and “crazy” to describe the usual traffic on Red Cup Day, with some estimating the traffic to be twice as high as it normally is. This year, some of those red mugs are sitting in dark stores.

Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment on the impact of the strikes. “The strength of our business as we exit September, along with an impressive holiday selection starting today, with our stores turning red, holiday favorites on the menu, and the return of The distinctive red cups give us tremendous confidence in the approaching holiday of 2023.”

Stores that have already opened and staffed with non-union managers, managers and employees from other stores, workers said, saw limited traffic as many customers refused to cross the picket line.

“We don’t have even a fraction of what would normally happen on a normal Red Cup day,” barista Maria Flores told Recode from the picket line outside her Queens store, which was staffed by managers and people from other stores. “I would say I like maybe 75 percent of it [customers] They turn around, and we either grab the cold brew we have here on the picket line or order another local coffee spot.”

She said some customers were joining the picket line as cars — even subway drivers — rolled up in support.

“We’ve had trains signaling us in solidarity,” said Flores, whose location is on Astoria Blvd adjacent to the subway line.

In Jacksonville, Fla., a crew of 10, including about five managers, came in to replace seven regular Starbucks workers who were scheduled that day, said Mason Boykin, a barista at the Starbucks there. Even then, that crew was only able to power the drive through (store closed, Uber Eats closed, mobile ordering), and Boykin said they’ve noticed customers wait up to five minutes in the speaker box before they come in (usually They are taken care of immediately). The store closed early at 11 am.

Workers strike outside Elmwood Starbucks near Buffalo, New York. The store is closed today because not enough people are working.
Michel Eisen

The workers said most of the customers they spoke with outside their stores were incredibly supportive. Some joined the picket lines themselves, while others just wanted to know what was going on.

Roisin Potts, shift supervisor at Austin Starbucks, spoke to customers from the parking lot after the management who currently runs the store told her and her fellow strikers to leave the property.

Thanks to the sociability and customer base so close to the workers, Potts said far fewer people were entering the parking lot at first, because they knew the store was on strike. Many of those who entered the parking lot did not end up going to the store.

“A lot of them stop by to chat with us, ask a few questions, and then they leave,” Potts said. At least one person said, “I have coffee at home.” I’m going home and making my own today.”

The striking workers outside the Austin Starbucks are currently staffed by managers, a regional manager, and workers from other locations.
Danger Atlas

It’s been almost a year since the first Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, They voted to unite the unions. Since then, more than 250 others across the country have done so. For the most part, the company refused to bargain with these stores. While the company has ostensibly started negotiating with 55 stores (up from three this summerThose bargaining sessions are just superficial, said Michele Eisen, a barista at the first Starbucks syndicate whose store closed today due to the strike. At these meetings, Starbucks immediately refuses to bargain over a video call, something both Starbucks and the union agreed to earlier in the pandemic. The union bargaining teams each include workers from all over the country, which makes it difficult to invite everyone to the same place, even though many do show up in person.

“We use the term ‘at the table’ very loosely because they don’t stay at the table for very long,” Essen said.

The union has brought more than 400 charges of unfair labor practices against the company. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the government body charged with overseeing employment cases, investigates every charge. To date, it has issued 45 complaints (covering 155 charges) against the company, meaning it has found at least some of the charges to have merit. The NLRB has issued a number of complaints about the company’s failure to bargain with stores across the country.

It’s not yet clear if today’s strikes will cause Starbucks to negotiate with the union, but workers felt it would do no harm. It also helped them see public support.

“We’ve formed a very close relationship with our customers, and seeing them out there supporting us was really incredible, despite the extreme cold and wind,” said Beck Green, who closed his Boston store Thursday due to the strike.

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