Starbucks Workers Walk Out on Red Cup Giving Day

  • November 17, 2023

Unionized Starbucks workers walked off the job Thursday to press their demands for contract negotiations and to air their grievances over labor and scheduling issues.

The union representing the striking workers, Starbucks Workers United, said the walkout involved thousands of workers at more than 200 stores. Starbucks said workers were protesting at less than 100 stores, most of which are still open. The company has approximately 9,300 company-owned stores in the United States.

The suspension coincides with Starbucks’ annual promotion, Red Cup Day, where customers receive red reusable cups when they order a holiday-themed drink, such as a Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte.

Starbucks Workers United said events like Red Cup Day force workers to handle more orders than usual but without enough staff.

Union workers say the company refused to discuss labor and scheduling issues on those days, and the union filed a malpractice suit with the National Labor Relations Board over the issue this year.

The union represents more than 9,000 Starbucks employees at more than 300 stores nationwide. The workers of some stores coordinated by the unions started visiting the company on Wednesday with the aim of surprising the company who knew about Thursday’s action.

Starbucks says the union is the party that blocked bargaining sessions by insisting on holding meetings online, with rank-and-file members watching, rather than having bargaining teams sit down in person.

“We hope that Workers United’s priorities will change to include the shared success of our partners and negotiating contracts for those they represent,” Andrew Trull, a company spokesman, said in a statement.

The union is asking the company to freeze mobile phone orders on promotional days, which it says have become too common.

Daisy Federspiel-Baier, a shift manager at Starbucks in Seattle, said her store received more than 200 orders in a half hour during an October promotion where customers could get 50 percent off any drink. The shop was so overwhelmed that some drinks and food were wasted and orders were put on hold, Ms Federspiel-Baier said.

“I watched baristas go through mental breakdowns, being yelled at by customers and pressured by managers to continue doing work when it didn’t make sense to do so,” she said.

In a statement, Starbucks acknowledged that the promotion “may change store patterns and traffic,” but added: “Our stores are often offered extended business hours to add staff to support scheduled promotional days.”

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Rachel Simandl, a shift manager at a Starbucks in Chicago where workers walked out Wednesday and Thursday, said the labor shortages were endless, leaving workers exhausted and hurting business by increasing wait times for customers and lowering service levels.

“At the top, what we need is to have more installation on the ground,” said Ms. Simandl. “Instead of there being only three people, there were four or five people. It makes a big difference in how you go about your day.”

The walkout is the latest development in the battle between the company and organized labor. After two primary election victories in the Buffalo area in December 2021, the union campaign quickly expanded. About 70 stores applied for union elections in March 2022, but momentum has died down. About 20 shops applied for union elections last month.

Of the stores that had their election results certified by the National Labor Relations Board, 363 voted to unionize, and 71 voted against unionization.

In September, a labor board judge ruled that Starbucks violated federal law by limiting raises and benefits to unauthorized employees. An administrative judge ruled in March that Starbucks repeatedly violated labor laws by illegally interfering with union organizing and firing workers who wanted to form a union.

In June, union workers announced a week-long strike at more than 150 stores, protesting what they say is the company’s ban on Pride Month clothing and its treatment of LGBTQ workers – which management has denied. Starbucks said the protest has temporarily closed 21 stores.

Starbucks Workers United said Thursday’s Red Cup Day protests have spread to about a dozen unauthorized stores.

One was near Flatwoods, W.Va., where Justin Copenhaver, a shift supervisor, applied to meet his co-workers this year. The effort was dropped in March, but the union accused the company of interfering with the election.

On Thursday, Mr. Copenhaver picked up outside the store with three other employees.

“I want to show the company that we are the ones who bring the money, we can stop this money from coming in,” he said.

Noam Scheiber reporting contributed.