The coffee company owns roughly 9,000 locations in the United States with over 70,000 employees.
The Starbucks employees walked off the job on Nov. 17, hoping to shut down shops as they protested the coffee chain’s approach to union contract negotiations, at the start of its profitable holiday season.
Striking workers called the walkout the “Red Cup Rebellion,” which spread across 25 states, covering 112 stores in cities like Seattle, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Eugene, and Ann Arbor.
The strike coincided with Starbucks’s annual “Red Cup Day,” when its stores hand out free, red reusable travel mugs to customers who order particular beverages, causing lines of customers to gather early to collect the free giveaway.
Customers also receive discounts and extra bonus points on future purchases with the reusable red holiday cups.
Largest Starbucks Walkout
It was the first organized nationwide strike at the company, with previous walkouts lasting from a few hours to more than 20 days and only consisting of a few local stores at a time.
The leaders of Starbucks Workers United, an affiliate of Workers United of the Service Employees International Union, have been organizing stores for the last year.
The union currently represents nearly 7,000 employees nationwide.
The leadership said that they ordered the nationwide walkout, as the company was not bargaining in good faith and for needlessly delaying talks on labor contracts.
Beginning with a 2021 strike in Buffalo, N.Y., Starbucks has faced more than 60 walkouts, from Seattle to New York City.
At least 264 stores or 3 percent, have voted in favor to organize, but no deals have been signed with the company, even at locations that voted in favor of unionization nearly a year ago.
Union Negotiations Stall
Talks have been suspended since April when the company objected to allowing union members to silently observe unionization proceedings on Zoom, which was a key condition for negotiations by the union.
Company representatives demanded that future meetings be conducted in person after a verbal exchange with union leaders at a livestream meeting on the platform.
Both parties had earlier agreed to negotiations on Zoom, due to state and federal guidance, at the time, regarding pandemic safety regulations for in-person gatherings.
Starbucks said that labor negotiations needed to be confidential since the discussions involved personnel issues and private business information, said Starbucks spokesman Andrew Trull to the Washington Post.
They said that continuing to host the proceedings on Zoom would amount to an open “broadcast” of the negotiations and claimed the full list of attendees was not provided by the union, he said.
“Starbucks is now refusing to bargain—or even listen to our proposals—because a few workers are joining the session virtually,” complained Starbucks Workers United in a tweet.
Accusations of Retaliation
The union had also alleged that the company was unfairly retaliating against Starbucks labor organizers.
Trull denied that Starbucks had retaliated against employees in favor of unionization, and blamed the union itself for the lack of progress at the negotiating table.
The chain had previously defended the firings of certain organizers, for violation of rules that they say apply equally to all employees.
Several high-profile organizers were terminated on the premise that they were organizing on company time.
“No Starbucks partner has been, or will be, disciplined for supporting or engaging in lawful union activity,” the company said in a statement, and that “interest in a union does not exempt partners from following policies and procedures that apply to all partners.”
However, The National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) filed a national cease and desist order against Starbucks in federal court to prevent it from retaliating against union supporters.
The NLRB filing said that there had been a “number and pattern of Starbucks’ unfair labor practices … particularly discharges” against organizing workers.
Support From Democrat Leaders
Some Democrat politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are major supporters of the union organizers and strikers.
“I’m proud to stand with Starbucks workers on strike today across the country. CEO Howard Schultz is illegally union busting and firing workers for organizing. Mr. Schultz, it is time to recognize the stores that unionized and negotiate with workers in good faith,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in a statement.
Meanwhile, Trull said that the company recognized the right of their employees to participate in “lawful protest activity” on Red Cup Day.
“As a company, our focus is on creating those moments of joy and sharing gratitude with our customers and one another as we celebrate the holiday season,” said Trull, who noted that two-thirds of locations facing strikes remained open that day.
As the day wore on, Starbucks employees across the country were seen picketing outside Starbucks entrances and handed out the union’s own red cups to pedestrians, according to news reports.
After workers at the New York City Port Authority Bus Terminal Starbucks hit the picket line, the store was kept open by managers brought in from other locations, according to the strikers, reported CNN.
“This is to show them we’re not playing around,” said Tyler Keeling, a Starbucks employee and union supporter in Lakewood, California, told CNN.
“We’re done with the their anti-union retaliation and them walking away from bargaining.”
Regarding those not participating in the strike, Keeling said each individual store had to decide whether to participate in the strike.
From The Epoch Times