‘It’s despicable’: Starbucks workers set to strike on Red Cup Day in biggest walkout in company history

Thousands of Starbucks employees across the country are set to walk off the job Thursday in the largest walkout in the company’s five-decade history, the union representing the workers said in a statement to ABC News.

Workers at hundreds of unionized stores will call on Starbucks to negotiate labor contracts that set conditions such as wages, benefits and staffing levels at those workplaces, Starbucks Workers United said.

As of 2021, the union has organized more than 360 shops employing around 9,000 workers. But the union and Starbucks have yet to reach an agreement on a labor contract at any of the stores.

The strike will coincide with “Red Cup Day,” an annual promotion that draws many customers to the company’s stores to offer a free holiday-themed reusable cup.

Workers at stores in 30 cities, including New York and Philadelphia, walked off the job a day early Wednesday and will remain on strike until Thursday, the union said.

Mo Mills, a Starbucks employee at a store in St. Louis, told ABC News that they plan to participate in the strike after the company refuses to negotiate with the union on personnel decisions related to sales increases associated with promotional events. “Red Cup Day.”

The store where Mills works does about $8,000 in sales each day, but the promotional events add at least $3,000 in additional revenue, a nearly 40% increase in business, Mills said.

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However, Starbucks leaves staffing levels unchanged on promotional days, leading to overworked employees and dissatisfied customers, Mills added.

“Working in understaffed stores on promotional days is humiliating and uncomfortable, and we provide poor customer service,” Mills said. “When customers spend $10 or $12 on a drink, they don’t have to wait 45 minutes or get a lukewarm drink when it’s hot.”

Mills said their store was unionized in August 2022, but Starbucks representatives attended only one bargaining session and walked out after 15 minutes. “Starbucks advertises that it bargains in good faith but we don’t experience that,” Mills said.

In a statement to ABC News, a Starbucks spokesperson blamed the union for failing to make progress in contract negotiations, noting that the walkout would involve a portion of the company’s entire workforce.

“We are aware that Workers United has announced a day of action at a small subset of our US stores this week. We are committed to working with all partners to elevate everyday lives and that Workers United will change priorities, including the shared success of our partners and negotiating union contracts for those they represent,” he said. A company spokesperson said.

“Despite increased rhetoric and continued rallies demanding contracts, Workers United has not agreed to meet to advance contract negotiations in more than four months,” the spokesman added.

The company pointed to two union agreements reached with the United Steelworkers this summer and advanced a draft agreement with the Teamsters as a demonstration of its commitment to resolving union contracts.

A one-day strike would draw the attention of the labor campaign and Starbucks, Art Wheaton, a labor professor at the Labor Institute at Cornell University, told ABC News.

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Federal labor law requires Starbucks to bargain in good faith with union employees, but does not compel the company to agree to a contract, Wheaton added.

“Starbucks has to keep negotiating, but it never has to say ‘yes,'” Wheaton said. “The workers have 350 stores that are unionized and have zero labor contracts.”

“A strike can create awareness and help boost union morale,” he said. “We need solidarity events that engage members and engage the community to get an agreement.”

The walkout comes less than two weeks after Starbucks announced a 3% hourly wage increase for U.S. retail workers early next year.

The minimum wage increase is below the annual pace of inflation, which is 3.2%.

In addition to the wage increase, Starbucks will reduce the minimum number of days an employee must work to qualify for paid vacation benefits, the company said.

Alex Yeager, a union worker at a Starbucks store in Albany, New York, previously told ABC News in a statement that he expects the company to offer raises only to non-unionized stores.

“Once again, Starbucks is responding to our bargaining demands, but they are enforcing them at non-union stores and denying these new benefits to workers at stores that are unionized or have already voted to join a union,” Yeager said.

A labor board judge ruled in September that Starbucks illegally offered non-union employees earlier raises and benefits. First is Bloomberg Law reported On the verdict.

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In a statement to ABC News, Starbucks condemned the union’s accusation that only workers at non-union stores would receive a raise.

“All union-represented stores will receive annual wage increases consistent with our practice of providing annual wage increases,” Starbucks said. “Wherever we have and always will, partner benefits and offerings can be quickly and broadly enhanced.”

“Starbucks has long-standing legal obligations that require the company to distinguish between union or organizing partners and partners in all other stores,” the company added.

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