Thousands of Starbucks workers go on strike on Red Cup Day

More than a thousand Starbucks employees went on strike on Thursday during one of the company’s busiest days.

Starbucks Workers Union members are picketing at more than 100 stores across the country in what they say is the group’s largest one-day strike. The strike falls on Red Cup Day, when the coffee giant is handing out limited-edition, reusable Christmas cups. They are considered collectibles and customers line up at dawn to get a decorated mug. It’s one of the coffee giant’s most profitable days on the calendar.

But baristas like Josie Serrano say it’s symbolic of one of the union’s fundamental demands: a call for better staffing.

“Honestly, it’s one of those days that a lot of … baristas try … to ask for a vacation because it’s always a very crazy day,” said Serrano, who works at a Long Beach store. Calif.

Serrano says she has worked at Starbucks for about four and a half years. The shop where she works is one of 264 people who voted to unionize last year and joined Thursday’s nationwide strike.

Staffing is just one of the issues that Starbucks Workers United officials say has prompted them to start what has been dubbed the Red Cup Rebellion: a nationwide strike involving more than 100 stores staging their own pickets.

The strike is intended to force Starbucks to negotiate in good faith with workers while both sides try to negotiate new contracts, Serrano says.

According to the union, the company has retaliated against union leaders, and Starbucks lawyers have walked out on negotiation sessions or made last-minute requests for rescheduling, making it difficult for members to attend.

But Starbucks’ AJ Jones, executive vice president of communications, disputes that claim.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Jones told NPR, adding that the company gave Starbucks Workers United timely notice of the letters to the negotiation sessions.

Jones said the company was likely “overly aggressive” in trying to schedule negotiation sessions. The problem with the recent drop-outs, he said, is that union leaders at the table wanted to record or broadcast negotiation talks on social media — a legal no-no.

“Under the National Labor Relations Act, you are not allowed to record negotiation sessions. And that is actually a clear violation of the law based on what is being discussed.”

The union denies that this is a legitimate obstacle. They say all they do is include union members in Zoom calls, which they claim are allowed to do so.

Meanwhile, leaders at the picket line are hoping to win over customers who may not be happy about the strike if it hurts their chance for a red trophy. So they’re offering an even more exclusive memento: a union-designed red mug with the Starbucks Workers United logo on the front.

Serrano says this is a new breed of labor movement.

“I feel like the movement was a lot of fun. She was very positive. And we just really want to be able to share that with our supporters… like this is a party.”

Around 60 new collective bargaining negotiations are currently pending until mid-December.

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