Starbucks Workers Shut it Down

Barristas and other workers in Austin and around the nation struck the coffee chain November 17 to force management to come to the negotiating table and address the needs of the workforce.

By Joshua F

            Two thousand Starbucks workers from over a hundred unionized shops struck Thursday, November 17 on the busiest day of the year for the coffee shop chain. Normally, this would be a banner day for the company when they hand out reusable red plastic holiday cups but for many stores, the celebration was dashed. In their “Red Cup Rebellion”, workers walked out in the largest one-day strike yet for Starbucks Workers United members.

         In Austin, workers at the store at Lamar and 44th St. were out front with many supporters not just Thursday, but also Friday. Local and regional managers tried to save face but couldn’t hold it together. Despite a normal closing time of 8 pm, it was shut by 1 o’clock both days.

         Between 50 and 100 Starbucks workers and supporters, including some from the other unionized shop in Austin on 24th St., showed up for the picket line over the two days. Roisin Potts, among the more active workers at the store, noted that by talking to customers as they approached, unionists convinced about half to respect the picket line and get their morning coffee elsewhere, impressive for a town without a strong organized labor history. “We had so many people who did not turn into the parking lot, who came in, heard that we were on strike and turned around and left. We have made crazy strides on getting people aware that this is a union store and aware of what’s been going on.”

         The primary reason behind the strike stated Morgan Leavy, another union activist, is that “Starbucks is refusing to negotiate in good faith with the union. They are showing up to bargaining meetings and leaving after five minutes, after being nitpicky about partners being on Zoom and doing a hybrid method. People are being left in boardrooms for hours without the [company] lawyer showing up at all.”

         The issues the union is attempting to bring to the bargaining will be familiar to anyone in the service industry. A Starbucks worker named Sam said, “We’ve been forced to work in conditions where we don’t have enough staffing. We have lines out the door and we’re dealing with customers expressing their anger at us for things that are out of our control. It falls on corporate and management to get us the resources we need so that customers have the best experience in our stores.”

Naturally in a housing market as overpriced as Austin, pay is on the agenda particularly since, as employee Atlas Danger pointed out, Starbucks is “refusing to give us benefits such as credit card tipping, a relaxed dress code and pay raises that all the other non-unionized stores got,” a violation of federal labor law as Morgan Leavy noted.

One worker on the picket line, Kaleb, has only been at the store for a few weeks. “I’m on strike in large part because I am a staunch supporter of organized labor and unionization in general,” Kaleb said. “I am fairly new to this particular store, but its union status was a big part of the reason why I applied. I admit I was a little bit taken off guard by how soon the union activity began, but I’m all about it, and I’m out here to stand with my coworkers in solidarity.”

The strikers saw strong support from drivers. Innumerable passers by honked, waved or raised a fist, keeping morale high on the line.

         The unionists hope Starbucks will come to the bargaining table as it is legally required to do, but their expectations aren’t high. They understand that this battle is primarily about power, not the company’s legal jockeying so they are prepared to continue the fight. The national campaign already has a meeting scheduled to plan an action for December 9.

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