SEATTLE — Starbucks workers at more than 200 locations nationwide, including 15 in Washington, walked out Thursday on one of the company’s busiest days, according to the union representing the workers. The walkout signals the continuing contentiousness over contract bargaining between the coffee giant and union workers.
In Thursday’s strike, dubbed Red Cup Rebellion, Starbucks workers called for the Seattle-based company to engage in bargaining over issues including staffing and scheduling, said the union, Starbucks Workers United.
The walkouts are so named because they are taking place on Red Cup Day, a yearly event that draws some of the highest sales of the year for the coffee giant. Customers can get a free reusable red Starbucks cup with the purchase of a holiday drink. The promotion drives more Starbucks fans to the stores that striking workers claim are understaffed.
In Washington, hundreds of Starbucks union workers at the 15 locations joined the one-day strike on Thursday. The participating locations were in Seattle, Shoreline, Bellingham, Marysville, Everett, Olympia, Tumwater, Vancouver and Redmond.
Seattle locations at Fifth and Pike downtown, Seattle Center, Third and Madison and University Way closed Thursday. The Reserve Roastery on Capitol Hill opened at 11 a.m., later than its regular 7 a.m., and had limited service capacity throughout the day, according to the union.
The union said Thursday’s strike doubled the turnout of a similar strike that took place on the Red Cup day last year and was the largest since organizers began a union campaign in late 2021. A union organizer didn’t specify the actual turnout number on Thursday afternoon.
Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull said the striking workers represent a small portion of the company’s workforce, adding that the union’s priorities should shift to negotiating contracts with the company. Starbucks has about 10,000 company-owned U.S. stores.
Seattle workers striking Thursday morning said Starbucks has been stalling on bargaining, for example, by refusing to negotiate if workers join sessions via Zoom. Starbucks argued that the union was recording the negotiation sessions through video conferences, which is not allowed under labor law.
Rachel Ybarra, one of the Fifth and Pike workers striking, said there is an “astounding” difference in how the company has been approaching bargaining recently compared to when Ybarra’s unionized store at Broadway and Denny on Capitol Hill closed in December.
When Starbucks announced the closure, it was efficient about reaching a contract because it had to do so before the closure date, Ybarra said. At Fifth and Pike, also a unionized store, Starbucks has been slow about negotiating a contract, Ybarra said.
“There was time pressure with my [previous] store. They had to reach a contract,” Ybarra said of the shuttered Broadway and Denny store, adding that Starbucks seems to feel like it “can stall permanently” at the Fifth and Pike store.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled in June that Starbucks broke the law at the now-shuttered Broadway and Denny store by telling Ybarra they couldn’t testify at an NLRB hearing without securing shifts and by prohibiting union activities during company-paid breaks.
Starbucks has been investing in its worker experience, even making it one of CEO Laxman Narasimhan’s long-term plans announced this month. Among Starbucks’ initiatives is investing more than 20% of profits this fiscal year in wage increases, training and new equipment, Trull said.
Among the investments is a 3% to 4% wage increase in 2024 depending on worker tenure. The increase in wages and benefits will be applicable for unionized workers, according to Starbucks. Ybarra said the union is waiting to see if unionized workers will receive the raises.
Reserve Roastery worker Moonie Atchley said she decided to walk out because she wants to bargain for better working conditions, including better safety. Atchley said the job can involve getting injuries.
Atchley said workers are walking out because there is low staffing compared with the number of orders on promotional days. At the University Way store in October, workers had 221 orders in half an hour on a day when drinks were 50% off, according to Atchley.
Sarah Pappin, a union organizer who works at Fifth and Pike, said the number of orders on promotional days is unreasonable for the baristas on staff and can lead to worker and customer frustration.
“When customers are abandoning their drinks left and right because they can’t wait an hour … Starbucks is still making money,” Pappin said.
Starbucks’ Trull said managers can build and adjust staffing schedules depending on store resources and expected customer demand.
“Our store schedules are created three weeks in advance with our partners’ availability and preferences at the forefront,” he said. “Stores are often provided additional labor hours to augment staffing in support of planned promotional days.”
The strikes come as the union, Starbucks Workers United, and Starbucks are at odds. As of Wednesday, 363 stores were certified to have voted for union representation. While the union claims Starbucks is refusing to negotiate, the company argues that the union hasn’t responded to invitations for in-person bargaining.
The contention has escalated with the union claiming the coffee giant broke labor law through 680 charges of unfair labor practices filed with the NLRB.
In the most recent decision in one of the cases in September, an NLRB administrative law judge ruled that Starbucks broke the law by keeping wages and benefits exclusive to nonunion workers. An April NLRB complaint argued that the coffee giant broke labor law by refusing to negotiate fairly with workers from 144 unionized stores.
Ybarra said the union hopes Thursday’s strike put pressure on Starbucks to bargain.
“The goal is always we need a contract,” Ybarra said. “Starbucks doesn’t feel any pressure and we’re hoping to fix that today.”