●More than 100 unionized Starbucks locations plan to strike on one of the chain’s biggest sales days of the year, Red Cup Day.
●At the 113 striking locations, the union will be distributing its own version of the reusable red cup that features the Grinch’s hand holding an ornament with the logo of Starbucks Workers United.
●The action comes after contract negotiations between Starbucks Workers United and the company have broken down.
More than 2,000 employees at 112 Starbucks locations are set to go on a one-day strike Thursday, according to the union which has been organizing stores for the last year.
The union says it is striking to protest the retaliation taken against union supporters nationwide. It is also protesting what it characterizes as the company’s refusal to bargain with the union on a first labor deal. There are 264 stores that have voted in favor of union representation. But no contracts have yet been negotiated even at stores which voted nearly a year ago.
“This is to show them we’re not playing around,” said Tyler Keeling, a 26-year old union supporter who has worked at a Starbucks in Lakewood, California — near Los Angeles — for the last six years. “We’re done with the their anti-union retaliation and them walking away from bargaining.”
Keeling and other union supporters say that it was up to each individual store as to whether or not to participate in the nationwide strike. Many stores have staged brief strikes already over specific issues. But this is the first nationwide action.
“There’s a lot of fear before a store decides to go on strike,” said Michelle Eisen, an organizer of the first Starbucks store to vote in favor of the union last December. “Starbucks has been retaliating against union leaders across the country. But despite that fear, over 2,000 workers across the country are striking today and standing up for one another.”
When Keeling’s store staged a one-day strike in August, Starbucks (SBUX) workers from nearby non-union stores joined the picket line, he said, and some customers brought food and drinks to the strikers.
It’s not clear how many of the stores affected by Thursday’s action will be able to stay open during the strike.
The protest comes on “Red Cup” day at Starbucks, when it gives out reusable holiday cups with certain drink purchases that entitle customers to discounts and extra bonus points on future purchases.
“Culturally Red Cup Day is an important day at Starbucks. People do go crazy over it,” said Keeling. He said holding the strike on a day that has such a heavy volume of customers is a great way call attention to anti-union activities.
The union is calling its strike a “Red Cup Rebellion” and is handing out red Starbucks Workers United union cups to customers instead.
The company was not immediately available for comment on the strike early Thursday. In the past it has denied it has retaliated against any employee for their support of the union, and it has blamed the union for lack of progress at the negotiating table. Starbucks has defended the firings of union supporters that have taken place as proper enforcement of rules that apply to all of its employees, who it refers to as “partners.”
“Interest in a union does not exempt partners from following policies and procedures that apply to all partners,” Starbucks said in an earlier statement.
But this week, the National Labor Relations Board — which oversees union representation votes — filed in federal court for a national cease and desist order to prevent Starbucks 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 union supporters at it stores.
According to the union, the company has retaliated against union leaders, and Starbucks lawyers have walked out on bargaining sessions or made last-minute rescheduling requests that make it challenging for members to participate.
But Starbucks’ A.J. Jones, an executive vice president of communications, disputes that allegation.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Jones told NPR, adding that the company has provided Starbucks Workers United with ample notice of bargaining session letters.
Jones said the company has probably been “overly aggressive” in trying to schedule bargaining sessions. The problem with recent talk breakdowns, he said, is that union leaders at the table want to record or broadcast negotiation talks on social media — a legal no-no.
“Under the National Labor Relations Act, you are not allowed to record bargaining sessions. And that actually is a clear violation of the act because of what’s being discussed.”
The workers union denies that that is a legitimate impediment. They say all they are doing is including union members on Zoom calls, which they claim they are allowed to do.
Meanwhile, on the picket line, leaders hope to win over customers who might not be thrilled with the strike if it interferes with their chance to get a red cup. So, they’re offering an even more exclusive commemorative item: A union-designed red cup with the Starbucks Workers United logo on the front.
Serrano says this is a new kind of labor movement.
“I feel like the movement has been very fun. It’s been very positive. And we just really want to be able to share that with our supporters … like this is this is a party.”
Currently, there are about 60 new bargaining sessions coming up before mid-December.