Thousands of Starbucks employees across the United States participated in a walkout on Thursday, marking the most extensive work stoppage in the coffee giant’s five-decade history. According to Starbucks Workers United, the union represents the workers. The employees at hundreds of unionized stores are advocating for the negotiation of labour contracts that would establish conditions such as pay, benefits, and staffing levels. This labour strike coincided with “Red Cup Day,” a popular annual promotion at Starbucks that typically attracts a considerable number of customers to the company’s stores for a free holiday-themed reusable cup.
Starbucks Workers United, the union that has organized over 360 stores employing around 9,000 workers since 2021, has yet to reach a labour contract agreement with Starbucks at any of these unionized stores. The strike involves workers in 30 cities, including major metropolitan areas like New York and Philadelphia. Moe Mills, a Starbucks employee at a store in St. Louis, emphasized the motivation behind the strike, citing the company’s refusal to engage in negotiations with the union regarding staffing decisions related to the surge in sales associated with promotional events like “Red Cup Day.”
Mills pointed out that promotional events significantly increase revenue at their store, with the additional revenue amounting to nearly a 40% increase in business. However, Starbucks maintains staffing levels unchanged on promotional days, resulting in overworked employees and unsatisfied customers, according to Mills. In response to these claims, a Starbucks spokesperson refuted the assertion that staffing levels at Mills’ store remained unchanged on promotional days. The spokesperson stated that staffing on Red Cup Day includes 25% more partners than on a typical weekday, anticipating the additional customers during the promotional event. Starbucks emphasized its commitment to working with partners and ensuring flexibility in adjusting staffing schedules based on changes in store patterns and traffic.
Mills mentioned that their store unionized in August 2022, but Starbucks representatives have attended only one bargaining session, walking out after just 15 minutes. Starbucks responded to this claim, asserting that company representatives reached out to the union about a second bargaining session but had not received a reply. The company faulted the union for not making progress in contract negotiations, stating that the walkout would involve only a fraction of the company’s overall workforce.
Starbucks emphasized its adherence to long-standing legal obligations, requiring differentiation between unionized or organizing partners and partners in all other stores. The company pointed to its efforts to negotiate union contracts, highlighting agreements reached with other unions as evidence of its commitment to settling union agreements. The walkout serves as a significant point of protest and raises awareness of the ongoing labour campaign at Starbucks, drawing attention to the union’s demands for fair labour conditions, including negotiated contracts that address pay, benefits, and staffing levels.
This direct public pressure at Starbucks comes less than two weeks after the company announced a 3% hourly pay increase for U.S. retail employees starting in the new year and other improvements to benefits, including a reduction in the minimum number of days required for qualifying for paid vacation benefits. The walkout reflects a broader movement for workers’ rights and fair labour practices, gaining momentum in various industries.
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