People hold signs in support of Starbucks workers outside a Starbucks on New York’s Upper West Side on Thursday.
NEW YORK — Employees at more than 200 U.S. Starbucks locations walked off the job Thursday, what organizers said was the largest strike yet in a two-year-old effort to unionize the company’s stores.
The Workers United union chose Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day for the walkout because it is typically one of the busiest days of the year. Starbucks expects to give away thousands of reusable cups Thursday to customers who order holiday drinks.
The union said it expected more than 5,000 workers to take part in its “Red Cup rebellion”. The union said workers were expected to picket for part of the day and visit non-union shops the rest of the day. About 30 shops also walked out on Wednesday.
Juniper Schweitzer, who has worked for Starbucks for 16 years, said she loves the company and its ideals but believes it is not living up to her.
“They promised us the world and didn’t deliver,” said Schweitzer, who was picketing outside her Chicago store Thursday.
Frequent promotions like Red Cup Day or Buy One Get One Free offers put additional stress on workers, who don’t have the ability to turn off mobile orders or otherwise control workflow, he said.
“I mean, you can imagine the Starbucks order. Decaf Grande non-fat, three and a half Splenda Mochas without the whip. Multiply it by 100 and you just have drink, drink, drink, drink, drink Have, have, drink,’” she said. “We have basically unlimited amounts of drinks and we’re understaffed and we’re underpaid and we’re fed up with it.”
Edwin Palmasoulis, a Starbucks employee for more than two years, joined a protest in front of his New York store on Thursday. Their stores voted to unionize last year, but Starbucks and the union have not yet begun bargaining. He believes a contract would help improve working conditions in his busy Manhattan store.
“It’s been more of a low than a high for us. Trying to deal with their retaliation has been exhausting and not much has changed in the last year,” he said.
Thursday’s strike was the fifth major labor action by Starbucks workers, since a store in Buffalo, New York became the first to form a union in late 2021. Last year, employees of 110 stores walked out on Red Cup Day; Most recently, a strike in June protested reports that Starbucks had removed Pride displays from its stores.
But the strikes have had little impact on Starbucks sales. For its 2023 fiscal year, which ended Oct. 1, Starbucks reported its revenue rose 12% to a record $36.0 billion.
Starbucks said Thursday that many of the stores with striking workers remained open, staffed by supervisors, managers and employees who chose not to strike or commuted from nearby stores to pick up overtime.
“We currently have approximately 10,000 stores open and are looking forward to delighting our customers on Red Cup Day,” the company said.
At least 363 company-operated Starbucks stores in 41 states have voted to unionize by the end of 2021. Starbucks’ effort was at the leading edge of a period of labor activism that has also seen strikes by Amazon workers, auto workers and Hollywood writers and actors. PHD. According to Johnny Callas, at least 457,000 workers have participated in 315 strikes in the US this year. Candidate and Project Director of Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker.
Starbucks opposes the unionization effort and has not yet reached a labor agreement with any store that has voted for unionization. This process has been controversial; Regional offices of the National Labor Relations Board have issued 111 complaints against Starbucks for unfair labor practices, including refusal to bargain. Starbucks says Workers United is refusing to schedule a bargaining session.
Starbucks noted that it has begun bargaining with the Teamsters union, which had organized a Starbucks store outside Pittsburgh in June 2022. But the two sides have not reached a labor agreement. The Teamsters did not say Wednesday whether unionized store workers would also strike.
Relations between Starbucks and Workers United have become increasingly strained. Last month, Starbucks sued Workers United, saying pro-Palestinian posts on the union account had damaged its reputation and demanding that the union stop using the Starbucks Workers United name. Workers United responded with its own lawsuit, saying Starbucks had defamed the union by suggesting that it supports terrorism and violence.