Starbucks employees leave work amid calls for unionization, reform to company policy
The world’s largest coffee chain is at odds again with its employees. Starbucks baristas across the United States walked off the job in protest the last week of June over accusations that dozens of locations did not allow their workers to decorate for Pride month.
Local Starbucks locations in Wisconsin also participated in this national call to action. In Madison, two of the three primary downtown Starbucks locations closed their doors in observance of the national strike with Pride decor strung outside the buildings.
Wisconsin’s neighboring states saw stores shut down in late June as well. Multiple locations in the Twin Cities and Chicago participated in the protests.
Starbucks Employees Speak Out
Prior to December 2021, not a single Starbucks store had unionized. Since then, workers at over 335 Starbucks locations have won their elections to unionize, according to Starbucks Workers United, the largest worker-led unionizing effort for Starbucks employees. The unionized workers are seeking better pay, benefits, and more rights.
The walkouts are just the latest labor action from unionized workers, part of a growing push to hold the company accountable for its anti-union efforts.
“Starbucks has employed both legal and illegal tactics in its effort to prevent workers from organizing,” said the Economic Policy Institute. Examples include requiring workers to attend “captive audience meetings,” a common union-busting tactic during which employers can discourage employees from joining a union, interrogate workers about the organizing campaign, and distribute anti-union materials. Starbucks is also alleged to have hired out-of-state support managers to monitor employee behavior and discourage unionization.
Last November, over 2,000 employees staged what would be the first of several nationwide strikes in response to the company’s retaliation against union members and organizers.
A month later, Starbucks locations nationwide shut down for three days during the “Double Down” strike initiative.
In March, the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions released a report on the company’s 18-month anti-union campaign.
“Starbucks has fought the attempts of workers every step of the way,” the HELP Committee wrote, “including unlawfully firing employees, having the police called in response to a peaceful and lawful congregation of workers who were attempting to present their request for union recognition, and illegally shutting down unionized stores.”
The National Labor Relations Board also took issue with Starbucks’ behavior toward its workers’ organizing efforts. The NLRB recently won a decision against the company stating it had violated the National Labor Relations Act hundreds of times. The ruling required Starbucks to rehire and compensate seven unlawfully fired workers at a location in Buffalo, New York and reimburse affected employees for any harm suffered from the company’s unlawful conduct. Beyond this instance, however, the company has faced few tangible repercussions for its anti-union actions.
Union organizers resumed their efforts at the end of June. Strike for Pride was a weeklong campaign that involved over 3,000 workers in 150+ stores. The initiative was organized by Starbucks Workers United.
Calls for Change
Starbucks Workers United and baristas within the organization are demanding an all-encompassing union contract between Workers United and Starbucks. These are a few of the key proposals being advocated for:
Right to Organize
The first priority listed by Starbucks Workers United is for the company to “halt all interference and intimidation and to agree to a fair process for union votes.” This initiative would go beyond the legal action taken by the NLRB and require Starbucks to sign the Fair Elections Principle addition to the Starbucks Workers United proposed contract that would hold the company accountable to a code of conduct meant to safeguard the ability to organize.
Strong Foundation of Rights
There are three rights highlighted by Workers United in their proposal. First, the Just Cause right protects workers against unjust discipline or dismissal. Second, the Grievance Procedure establishes a set of legal procedures organized by a neutral third party when disputes between Starbucks and its employees arise. Third, Seniority Rights instills the principle that employees who have worked with Starbucks the longest are prioritized first in schedules, promotions and additional time off.
This proposal would raise the base pay to $20 dollars per hour for all workers. A “fair way to calculate a higher base wage in high-cost areas” would be included. Wages would also take into account seniority and previous experience to offer higher per-hour pay. Finally, employees would automatically be enrolled in an employee-sponsored 401(k) retirement plan.
No Reduction Agreement
To protect the rights of employees from being revoked or changed, Starbucks Workers United is calling for its union contract to include a statement guaranteeing that wages, benefits and other working conditions remain consistent throughout an employee’s Starbucks career. The goal would be to avoid unfair or unexpected reductions in pay or benefits.
Current Starbucks healthcare plans are rising in price while providing only minimal coverage, according to Starbucks Workers United. This contract would expand upon Starbucks’ current healthcare system by offering 100% employer-paid care with co-pay caps at $10 dollars, extending healthcare plans to employees who have worked for at least 30 days and maintaing transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits for workers
According to workers affiliated with the union, managers in several states allegedly told baristas last year that they risked losing access to transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits if they unionized.
“Lack of sufficient hours and inconsistent schedules leads to economic instability and hardship,” Starbucks Workers United noted in their proposal.
The union wants a new scheduling and hours policy that guarantees full-time status to employees who work more than 32 hours a week, establishes benefits for part-time employees working under 20 hours per week, implements a system that guarantees a worker’s scheduled hours every week and creates easy-to-understand guidelines for paid and unpaid breaks, overtime pay and shift premiums.
Establishing Better Paid Leave Rights
Starbucks Workers United advocates for increased paid and unpaid time off. This would include increased sick and vacation days that would roll over every year if they go unused, 10 paid holidays and increasing the scope of acceptable reasons for taking a leave of absence.
The Road Ahead
While 335 Starbucks locations have won their elections to unionize, this number still makes up less than 5% of the 9,000 operating Starbucks locations in the US and efforts are not slowing down. Until Starbucks Workers United and non-member Starbucks employees come to an agreement with the company, it seems unlikely that Strike for Pride will be the last worker-led campaign waged against the company.
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