Thousands of Starbucks workers across more than 200 locations in the United States initiated a one day strike on Thursday, the largest protest in the two year campaign to unionize the coffee stores. The strike, known as the “Red Cup Rebellion” by the Workers United union, was planned to coincide with Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day, one of the busiest days of the year for the company.
The Workers United union orchestrated the walkout, expecting over 5,000 workers to participate in the protest. The timing drew attention to the union’s demands for higher wages and improved working conditions.
Juniper Schweitzer, a Starbucks employee with 16 years of experience, expressed her dedication to the company but highlighted the disparity between promised ideals and actual workplace conditions.
Workers, like Schweitzer, pointed to promotions and events, such as Red Cup Day, exacerbating stress due to understaffing and a lack of control over the workload.
Starbucks facing several labor actions since the unionization of a Buffalo store in 2021, reported a 12% rise in revenue to a record $36.0 billion for the 2023 year.
The company asserted that many stores with striking workers remained open, staffed by supervisors, managers, and non-striking employees.
This is the fifth labor action by Starbucks workers, with previous strikes addressing issues such as the removal of Pride displays and about working conditions.
The push for unionization at Starbucks gained momentum with at least 363 company-operated stores in 41 states voting to unionize since late 2021.
However, Starbucks opposes these efforts, leading to a relationship with Workers United. The National Labor Relations Board has issued 111 complaints against Starbucks for unfair labor practices, including refusal to bargain. Starbucks claims that Workers United is avoiding scheduling bargaining sessions.
Tensions between Starbucks and Workers United escalated when Starbucks sued the union, alleging that a pro-Palestinian social media post damaged its reputation.
In response, Workers United filed a counter-lawsuit, accusing Starbucks of defamation, support for terrorism. The Red Cup Rebellion strike is part of an increased labor activism in the United States.
Recent years have seen strikes by workers from various sectors, including Amazon, auto manufacturing, and the entertainment industry.
According to Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker, over 457,000 workers have participated in 315 strikes in the U.S. in the current year alone.
Starbucks highlighted its willingness to negotiate with unions to ongoing discussions with the Teamsters union, which organized a store outside of Pittsburgh in 2022.
However, no labor agreement has been reached in this case. Starbucks maintains that Workers United is refusing to schedule bargaining sessions.
Despite the striking workers’ efforts Starbucks’ sales have not suffered, with the company reporting record revenue.
The success of the Red Cup Rebellion remains to be seen, but it contributes to the wave of labor activism in the U.S.
The outcome may set a precedent for the treatment of workers’ rights in large corporations, influencing discussions around fair wages, better working conditions, and the dynamics between employees and management.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been involved in the process, with regional offices issuing complaints against Starbucks for unfair labor practices.
Starbucks claimed that Workers United is refusing to schedule bargaining sessions. The NLRB has certified 363 stores as union-represented but the lack of progress on negotiating new contracts.
On the day of the strike Starbucks stated that many of the stores with striking workers remained open, staffed by supervisors, managers, and employees who chose not to strike or visited from nearby stores. The company told that nearly 10,000 stores were open, serving customers on Red Cup Day.
The Workers United union remains committed to its goal of securing labor contracts that address issues such as pay, benefits, and staffing levels.
The strike on Red Cup Day was a move to draw attention to their cause, with workers from various cities participating in the largest work stoppage in Starbuck’s history.
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