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Starbucks unionized baristas plan largest ever strike for Red Cup Day

By Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg News
Published: November 13, 2023, 5:20pm

Unionized Starbucks Corp. baristas plan to hold their biggest strike yet this week, accusing the coffee giant of refusing to fairly negotiate at cafes that voted to organize.

Thousands of employees at hundreds of sites will mount one-day work stoppages on Thursday, according to the union Starbucks Workers United. The strike is pegged to the company’s Red Cup Day, a popular promotional event when Starbucks gives out holiday-themed reusable cups. The union says Starbucks has illegally refused to negotiate in good faith over issues including staffing and scheduling that are particularly onerous during such promotions.

“Starbucks has made it clear that they won’t listen to workers, so we’re advocating for ourselves by going on strike,” Oklahoma City employee Neha Cremin said in an emailed statement.

In an email, Starbucks said it’s the union that’s refusing to fairly negotiate. The two sides have disagreed in many store locations about ground rules for the meetings, including whether workers should be allowed to participate via videoconference. On Monday, the coffee chain alleged that it’s been months since the union agreed to meet for contract talks, while the union claimed Starbucks has refused to meet unless workers agreed to illegal infringements on their rights.

“We are aware that Workers United has publicized a day of action at a small subset of our U.S. stores this week,” Starbucks said. The company, which denies wrongdoing, said it hopes that the union’s “priorities will shift to include the shared success of our partners and working to negotiate union contracts for those they represent.”

Workers United has prevailed in elections at more than 350 of Starbucks’ roughly 9,000 corporate-run U.S. stores, starting with a landmark win nearly two years ago in Buffalo, New York. But the pace of the union’s spread has drastically slowed, and none of those stores has come close to reaching a collective bargaining agreement with the company.

Regional directors of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board have issued more than 100 complaints against the company, alleging illegal anti-union tactics including closing stores, firing activists, and refusing to fairly negotiate at unionized cafes. At the first two stores to unionize, the agency alleged the company “bargained with no intention of reaching agreement.”

Investigations and appeals in such cases can drag on for years, and the agency lacks authority to issue punitive damages or hold executives personally liable for wrongdoing. So the union has sought to deploy other forms of pressure, including outreach to politicians, customers, and students at universities where Starbucks has contracts. On Nov. 16, striking workers plan to visit non-union cafes to talk to fellow baristas about joining their efforts.