‘You can’t beat us’: Starbucks workers to strike in ‘Red Cup Rebellion’

Starbucks workers will strike at stores across the US on 16 November, the company’s promotional Red Cup Day, in their latest attempt to pressure the company to bargain a first union contract with unionized stores and address issues such as understaffing.

On Red Cup Day, Starbucks customers get a free limited edition reusable red cup as a promotional event to kick off the holiday season. Starbucks’ 2022 Red Cup Day was reportedly its highest single sales day ever despite strikes affecting over 100 stores organized by the Starbucks Workers United union.

This year, thousands of Starbucks workers are expected to participate in walkouts at hundreds of Starbucks stores as part of an escalated effort to expand the strikes, including actions at non-unionized Starbucks stores. The union has dubbed the day of action the “Red Cup Rebellion”.

Workers are calling on the company to turn off mobile ordering on high-volume promotion days, improve staffing and scheduling issues, and bargain with the union.

“I feel like customers don’t know to the full extent how hard the promotional days can be. It’s super exciting and fun for our customers to have these new cups, new drinks and all these exclusive things, but our management does not staff us correctly,” said Bruce Halstead, a barista at a Starbucks roastery in Seattle, Washington.

“Partners will run themselves ragged having to do the job of three people sometimes because the demand of customers is a lot more. Partners will leave their shifts in tears, they will injure themselves just trying to keep up with the demand of the cups and the drinks. We just want to bring awareness to this.”

Halstead got involved with the union organizing committee at his store shortly after starting his employment at the company in February 2023 and has been impressed with its ability to change management policies.

“It’s so empowering to be able to take matters and actions into our own hands. At the roastery, we’ve had many successful walkouts and strikes to the point where our managers have to listen and they will start doing what we are demanding of them,” said Halstead. “Nobody should have to go into their shift dreading if they are going to be cussed out by a customer today because the wait times are too long because we’re too understaffed to keep up with the volume.”

More than 360 Starbucks stores representing nearly 10,000 workers in the US have won union elections with Starbucks Workers United since December 2021, but the union campaign has faced significant opposition from the company through union elections and in efforts to bargain a first union contract.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been inundated with hundreds of unfair labor practice charges filed on behalf of Starbucks workers alleging retaliation, intimidation, harassment and delay tactics from Starbucks.

According to the NLRB, regional offices have docketed or settled 672 unfair labor practice cases against Starbucks in 39 states and Washington DC.

Among the complaints include a consolidated complaint that Starbucks has failed or refused to bargain with 242 bargaining units, with an administrative law judge hearing on that case currently in progress, and a recent ruling by a federal judge that Starbucks violated labor law by withholding benefits and pay increases from unionized workers.

Starbucks again offered pay increases and benefits to only non-union stores shortly after the ruling following its annual earnings call in which the company reported record revenues in the past year.

Starbucks Workers United has characterized Starbucks as “the worst offender of federal labor law in modern US history” and has extended organizing solidarity efforts to college campuses.

Starbucks and Starbucks Workers United recently filed lawsuits against one another over the Starbucks logo use over statements in support of Palestine made by the union.

“We’ve had firings, really heavy rule enforcement, a lot of bullying, and we’ve also been on our seventh manager since we filed,” said G Gamache, a barista at a Starbucks store in St Louis, Missouri.

Gamache argued that staffing dropped at his store and other locations around the time stores began unionizing. When his store manager resigned in early 2022 and was replaced with a manager from another store who had a poor reputation, Gamache and his co-workers quickly organized enough interest to file for a union election, which they won in June 2022.

“We’re still here, we’re still doing this, we’re still picking up steam, still picking up new stores. Starbucks has tried to do everything in the playbook to beat us down and get rid of us. This is going to be my store’s 10th strike in a year and half and we’re still organizing new people,” said Gamache. “Even when they try to whittle this down to nothing. That’s always the message I’m trying to send, that it doesn’t work. You can’t beat us.”

A spokesperson for Starbucks disputed claims of delaying bargaining a contract, accusing the union of delaying negotiations.

“We remain committed to working with all partners, side-by-side, to elevate the everyday, and it is clear that Workers United’s priorities don’t include the shared success of our partners. Despite escalating rhetoric and recurring rallies, Workers United hasn’t agreed to meet for contract bargaining in more than four months and has yet to deliver on any campaign promise made,” said Starbucks. “As we join together to celebrate the joy of the holiday season, we call on Workers United to come to the bargaining table and do the work of negotiating a first contract on behalf of the partners they represent.”