Workers at more than 100 US company-owned Starbucks locations went on strike for one day this month to protest what they say is illegal retaliation against their union organising.
The walkout came on the one day each year that Starbucks gives away reusable, red, holiday-themed cups to customers with coffee purchases. In the past, the promotion has led to long lines and stores quickly running out of the cups.
The workers say they are underpaid and don't have consistent schedules. They are also protesting firings, store closures and other actions they say are illegal retaliation by Starbucks against them for unionizing.
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"They're working us to the bone because we're so understaffed," said barista Aaron Cirillo, 23, as he marched with at least a dozen others outside of a combined Starbucks Pickup and Amazon Go location in New York City's midtown Manhattan.
Starbucks has nearly 9,000 corporate-owned US locations. On "Red Cup Day" in November 2021, visits to US Starbucks stores jumped 87% over the daily average for the full year, according to exclusive data from location analytics firm Placer.ai.
Starbucks has said it respects employees' right to organize, that store closings were due to safety concerns and that fired employees violated company policies. The company and union have accused each other of stalling bargaining.
The Seattle-based chain did not respond to a request for comment.
In August, the National Labor Relations Board ordered Starbucks to rehire some fired baristas who were union activists. Earlier this week, the labor board also asked a federal judge for an injunction to prohibit Starbucks from interfering with union elections.
In just over the past year, about 260 U.S. locations have voted to join the union. Dozens of them began bargaining last month.
Outside the Manhattan location, striking workers held signs reading "no contract, no coffee" and chanted "two jobs, one worker" to protest having to staff both the Starbucks and Amazon Go areas at their location.
Cirillo, who makes $17.05 an hour and has worked at the store for over a year, said his store petitioned to unionize last month and is slated to vote on 8 December.
He said he initially did not want to unionize out of fear of retaliation but became angry after waiting in vain for the company to boost benefits and fix equipment in the store.
"A Hostile Environment"
"This is a hostile environment and we have to do something about it," he said.