Workers from eight Starbucks stores in Washington were among those striking Thursday at more than 100 stores across the U.S. in the Starbucks Workers United union’s largest labor action since stores began organizing last year in Buffalo, New York.
Workers in three Seattle stores, three Bellingham stores, one in Everett and one in Tumwater protested Starbucks labor practices, which they contend are unfair. They demanded the company “fully staff all union stores and begin bargaining in good faith.”
Dubbed “Red Cup Rebellion,” the strikes coincided with the company’s annual Red Cup Day, when Starbucks distributes free reusable cups to customers who order a holiday drink.
Red Cup Day is a high-revenue, high-stress day, said Rachel Ybarra, a worker at a Capitol Hill store. By walking out, workers hit Starbucks’ bottom line, Ybarra said, in hopes the company will be more accepting of bargaining.
Since the first Starbucks store unionized in Buffalo in December, hundreds of Starbucks stores have organized across the country, leading a surge in labor union activity. In response, company executives have argued that Starbucks has always offered good working conditions and benefits, and that unions should not interfere in the relationship it has with its workers.
Dylan Lux, a worker in Tumwater, said her store is one of several where Starbucks refuses to bargain in good faith. Working on an important and difficult day felt unfair.
“We’re not going to do this,” Lux said. “You need to come to the table and then we can go back to work.”
Workers picketing outside of their stores handed out Starbucks Workers United branded cups to customers.
The strikes took place in 25 states. Starbucks said the protests are happening at a small number of its 9,000 stores.
While it might represent a small share of all stores, the union movement is still young, said Ybarra, a three-year Starbucks worker. Nearly half of the unionized stores picketed on Red Cup Day, which Ybarra said is an encouraging sign.
For Lux, the walkouts gave a sense of accomplishment. In March, she was a full-time student at Arizona State University and a full-time Starbucks employee, all while organizing the petition to unionize.
“It was a tremendous amount of work. There were some nights where I was sleepless, I was just exhausted and broken mentally,” Lux said. “But today this was such a, ‘This was worth it.’ “
In a statement, company spokesperson Andrew Trull said Starbucks respects workers’ right to engage in “lawful protest activity.”
“Our focus has been, and continues to be, on uplifting the Starbucks experience for our partners and customers,” he said. Starbucks refers to workers as partners.
Trull also said Starbucks is engaging the union “in a good faith effort to move the bargaining process forward,” adding that company representatives have shown up to more than 50 bargaining sessions and have 60 more scheduled in coming weeks.
Stores in Tumwater, Olympia and Bellingham have had bargaining sessions, he said.
Some of the first rounds of bargaining were not without conflict between Starbucks and the union. The company filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board claiming union representatives unlawfully recorded bargaining sessions in Chicago, California, New York state, Michigan and Kentucky.
The union, in response, said the bargaining sessions were not recorded. Some union representatives were joining via video call. The union said Starbucks was using a tactic to delay negotiations.
Starbucks and workers held the first bargaining session for the Tumwater store on Nov. 7, Lux said. “It was a slow, grueling process” to set the date, she said.
Company representatives walked out after five minutes, she said, because workers were attending the session virtually. Starbucks alleged it was unlawful to record the bargaining negotiations. Lux said the call was not recorded.
The NLRB has issued 39 complaints against Starbucks for violations of labor law. In Seattle, labor officials denied to dismiss a case that alleges it’s unlawful for Starbucks to offer more pay and benefits to nonunion workers. The administrative law judge will give a ruling based on the merits of the case. Starbucks and the union can then appeal the decision.
According to the NLRB, nearly 250 stores have unionized as of last week. The agency also recorded 405 unfair labor practice charges filed against Starbucks and 32 filed against the union.
Lux said picketing with more than 100 other stores felt like they were doing something big.
“I loved seeing all these people from all different walks of life come,” she said. “I hope that other partners will see us and be inspired by what happened today and want to join in.”
The eight Washington stores on strike were:
- 101 Broadway E., Seattle
- 4147 University Way N.E., Seattle
- 425 Pike St., Seattle
- 3625 Broadway, Everett
- 814 Iowa St., Bellingham
- 4303 Guide Meridian, Bellingham
- 222 36th St., Bellingham
- 5300 Capitol Blvd. S.E., Tumwater