Members of Starbucks Workers United launched an indefinite strike at a Boston-area Starbucks on Monday, forcing the store to close, workers told Restaurant Dive. The cafe’s employees are demanding that Starbucks remove a store manager and improve staffing across shifts.
Striking workers are receiving 70% of scheduled wages from a Workers United strike fund that was set up in June. At that time, Workers United committed $1 million to the fund and the American Federation of Teachers contributed $50,000. Teamsters in Boston have also pledged not to make food deliveries at the 874 Commonwealth Avenue location.
The Boston strike is the first indefinite walkout of the Starbucks union campaign, according to Starbucks Workers United. The strike follows terminations of prominent union activists at the company, which Starbucks says are unrelated to those employees’ union support. It also comes after the closure of at least three unionized stores — two in Seattle and one in Ithaca, New York.
Employees claim manager’s actions were discriminatory
Starbucks has faced more than 50 strikes since January, most of which have been one-day strikes or demonstrations, Starbucks Workers United member Casey Moore said. At the Commonwealth Avenue store, Spencer Costigan, a shift manager and union organizer, said changes Starbucks made at the store following its June union election prompted workers to strike.
At that time, Starbucks brought on a new general manager at the cafe. Costigan said the manager cut worker hours, leaving shifts understaffed, and removed decorations employees put up to celebrate Pride month. A majority of workers at that location are LGBTQ+ and wanted to have a pride flag displayed in the store year-round, Costigan said.
Costigan also claims the new manager misgendered nonbinary employees, confused one Asian American worker for another, and made inflammatory remarks about a black employee’s hair. Rossi said the manager only enforced a dress code rule that requires workers to wear hats against black workers. The manager did not respond to requests for comment before press time.
A Starbucks spokesperson said the company was looking into complaints from workers at the striking store, and that homophobic, transphobic and racist comments were not welcome at Starbucks.
“We take these accusations very seriously. And, of course, we have a number of policies and protocols in place to protect both our partners, our customers and the communities we serve. And so given the seriousness of these allegations, we are looking into it, and will take any necessary action following our investigation,” the spokesperson said.
Strikers at the store are not only demanding the removal of the manager, but are also asking corporate to address many of the issues that pushed them to unionize in the first place.
“We wanted to get our manager removed, and we wanted to come to an agreement with corporate about guaranteed coverage on the floor at all times in the store,” Nora Rossi, a barista who works the closing shift at the Commonwealth Avenue store, said.
Workers want at least one shift manager and two baristas scheduled at the store at all times, Rossi said. Since the location’s union election, cuts to hours have left the store understaffed, especially when workers clean the cafe during the closing shift. For most shifts over the past month, Rossi has worked with just one other barista, and had no shift manager for at least half of each shift.
Workers feel emboldened by strike fund to demonstrate
The strike, which is on its fourth day, shows little sign of stopping. Costigan said upwards of 70 picketers showed up on the strike’s second day on Tuesday, and many came from other unionized Starbucks cafes in the Boston area. Demonstrations in Overland Park, Kansas and Buffalo, New York lasted five days apiece.
“Workers definitely feel just like they have a bit more of a safety net to go on strike with the strike funds. Just knowing that, you know, they'll be able to still pay rent and buy groceries if they go on strike,” Moore said.
The strike fund is big enough to pay about $210 dollars to each of the estimated 5,000 workers in stores won by Starbucks Workers United. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data , nonsupervisory foodservice workers earn, on average, about $416 a week. Because striking Starbucks workers at the Boston store will receive 70% of scheduled wages from the fund, it’s possible Starbucks baristas there could earn around $291 for each week they strike.
Last week, Starbucks announced it would close 16 stores in response to safety concerns, including two unionized stores in Seattle and a third store that filed for a union election in Portland, Oregon. In June, Starbucks closed a unionized store in Ithaca, New York. The company has said these closures are not in response to unionization. Chipotle also closed a store pushing for a union election in Augusta, Maine, earlier this week.