- Employees in at least 60 unionized Starbucks stores are striking as part of a national, three-day work stoppage organized by Starbucks Workers United in protest of the company’s closure of several unionized stores, union members told Restaurant Dive. About 40 other stores will strike at least one day this weekend.
- The strikes this weekend could be the longest multi-state work stoppage organized by the union, though several individual strikes have lasted much longer, according to SBWU. The campaign aims to increase pressure on Starbucks to negotiate a union contract.
- Union supporters said the strike builds on worker momentum following a single-day strike at about 110 stores on Nov. 17, the company’s holiday cup giveaway day.
Among those striking the whole weekend are union supporters at the Seattle Starbucks Reserve Roastery, which barista and striker Elizabeth Duran described as “the crown jewel [of] this empire of cafes.” The Roastery, which Duran says is frequently visited by interim CEO Howard Schultz, voted 38 to 27 to unionize in April, NLRB records show. But Starbucks has contested the results. A company spokesperson told Restaurant Dive in July that the election should’ve been conducted in-person rather than by mail, because COVID-19 cases were not rising in Seattle at the time.
Starbucks did respond to Restaurant Dive’s request for comment on the strike before press time.
Duran said the fight between the union and the company is especially sharp in Seattle, in part because proximity to corporate headquarters means workers at the Roastery and other stores often come in contact with executives.
“We see Howard Schultz,” Duran said, adding that she had served Schultz his drink on several occasions. “It's not weird to see him once a week.”
Duran claims the company has closed four union stores in the Seattle area in retaliation for organizing, an alleged unfair labor practice that serves as the legal basis for the strike this weekend. Starbucks did not comment on these allegations before press time. Unfair labor practice strikers have more protections under the National Labor Relations Act than workers who launch economic strikes over pay, or wildcat strikes.
Starbucks began closing some unionized Seattle stores in July, citing crime and public safety concerns. The most recent union store to close in Seattle was the Broadway and Denny Starbucks, the first in the region to organize and a high-volume location, according to Duran. The Broadway and Denny store is the second union Starbucks to close in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, which Duran said damaged the fabric of the famously LGBT-friendly neighborhood.
“Starbucks has this idea [that it’s] a third place, a place you can go, that's not work or home,” Duran said. “It seems a little silly to say ’Starbucks was that for this community.’ But for a lot of people it was. Even in an historically LGBT neighborhood, it's not always possible to find spaces as welcoming as you would like.”
Duran said it was unlikely the strike would shut down the Roastery itself, as the company can bring in enough managers from corporate or other nearby stores to keep it running. Still, the picketing and store shutdowns throughout the country might hurt Starbucks during a high-sales holiday weekend, she said.
Casey Moore, a barista who works on communications for SBWU, said the strike would involved at least 1,000 workers. SBWU will also ask the public not to buy Starbucks gift cards this holiday season. The company lists unspent money on gift cards, or unused money loaded to the Starbucks app, as breakage revenue, recognizing $196 million in breakage revenue in 2022. The Strategic Organizing Center, a labor federation that includes Workers United, has asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to look into Starbucks’ breakage disclosures.
“There’s gonna be picketing at all of the striking stores letting folks know [about] the things that we're fighting for like full staffing, but also letting customers know that a way to support organizing Starbucks baristas is to not buy Starbucks gift cards this year,” Moore said.