The Biggest Strike in Starbucks' History Is Underway

Starbucks workers at around 100 stores have begun a national three-day walk out, the union campaign’s largest action yet.

Jeff Schuhrke

Fast-food cooks and cashiers join a strike outside a Starbucks in Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

In the latest escalation of their growing union drive, Starbucks workers across the country are staging a three-day strike beginning today — making it the longest nationally coordinated job action in the company’s history. Over 1,000 union baristas at around 100 stores are expected to participate in the work stoppage.

Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), which has won union elections at around 270 locations covering approximately 7,000 baristas since December 2021, is demanding the coffee giant begin negotiating a first contract rather than continue its relentless union-busting campaign. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has cited the company with over 900 alleged violations of federal labor law since the union drive began.

The main reason why we’re taking this action is because of unfair labor practices the company is engaging in that the NLRB is investigating,” said Collin Pollitt, a union barista and SBWU organizer in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The most recent are the denial of credit card tipping to union stores, hours cuts and the closing of union stores.” 

SBWU previously organized a one-day national strike on November 17 called the Red Cup Rebellion,” timed to coincide with the coffee giant’s lucrative Red Cup Day annual promotion. But since then, the union says Starbucks has continued to attack the organizing effort, including by closing the first store to unionize in Seattle. 

They’re doubling down on their union-busting, so we’re doubling down too. We’re demanding fair staffing, an end to store closures and that Starbucks bargain with us in good faith,” said Michelle Eisen, a barista and SBWU organizer in Buffalo, New York.

Accordingly, the union is dubbing this weekend’s three-day work stoppage the Double Down Strike.”

The goal of the strikes is to bring more attention to the fact that Starbucks is not bargaining with us. Every bargaining date they’ve given, they’ve shown up and then they’ve walked out,” said Austin Locke, an SBWU member from the Astoria-Ditmars store in Queens, New York. At every turn, they’ve said they’re not going to recognize the union, they’re not going to bargain with the union.”

Starbucks fired Locke in July, just days after he and his coworkers voted to unionize their café. He is one of at least 150 employees around the country who SBWU says was fired as illegal retaliation for their union organizing. 

The company claims Locke was terminated for failing to properly fill out a Covid-19 questionnaire, but New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection sued Starbucks this September arguing the firing violated the city’s new just cause” law covering fast-food workers. The lawsuit will go to trial in the coming months, according to Locke.

Earlier this week, the NLRB made a landmark ruling to broaden the penalties faced by companies that are found to have illegally terminated employees for union organizing. Previously, such employers would only have to reinstate and provide backpay to the fired worker, but now must also cover any debts or late fees incurred by the worker as a result of their termination. 

This is a win for workers,” Pollitt said of the NLRB ruling. Knowing there are remedies for unfair firings gives hope to the legal system for workers, knowing the value of their labor matters.”

In addition to going on strike, the union is also asking customers not to purchase Starbucks gift cards during the holiday season. This fiscal year, the company made a reported $212 million from leftover money on gift cards but has not been transparent on how it uses those funds.

SBWU has received support from service sector workers around the world. During the one-day strike on Red Cup Day, international solidarity actions were organized by workers in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Chile, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Serbia.

We have Starbucks in other countries that are unionizing as well,” Locke said. We need an internationalist perspective when it comes to these union drives because there’s a whole production chain of coffee bean pickers, farmers and others, and they’re getting paid nothing.”

The union expects further organizing and more escalating actions after this weekend’s three-day strike.

Things are moving quickly. In 365 days, there were 270 union election wins. We’re still bringing in new stores and agitating at these stores to get a union,” Locke said. Starbucks can see the pressure is mounting. This union is going to be a lot bigger than they think.”

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Jeff Schuhrke is a labor historian, educator, journalist and union activist who teaches at the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies, SUNY Empire State University in New York City. He has been an In These Times contributor since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSchuhrke.

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