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 about 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 go crazy about it,” said Keeling. He said holding the strike on a day that has such a heavy volume of customers is a great way to 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.
At a store across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City, workers walked the picket line even though their store isn’t having a union vote until Dec. 8. The store was open, with the help of managers brought in from other stores, according to the strikers. Staff on the job in the store wouldn’t comment on the strike.
Aaron Cirillo, a 23-year old working at the store since August, said he’s not discouraged by the fact that the store was able to stay open or that many customers crossed the picket line.
“We’re not trying to intimidate them. We just want them to hear our story about the need for a fair contract,” he said. Asked what he would tell customers if he could, he responded, “I would urge them to think about showing support by not getting a coffee this one day, or to go to any other store in the city for a coffee.”
The strikers chants were enough to prompt some customers to turn away, but there was a good flow of customers in the store.
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.