Several Mass. Starbucks stores join national 1-day strike

Starbucks employees and supporters link arms during a union election watch party Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Joshua Bessex/AP)
Starbucks employees and supporters link arms during a union election watch party Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Joshua Bessex/AP)

Workers from several Massachusetts Starbucks stores walked off the job Thursday, part of a nationwide action that thousands of the coffee giant's employees were expected to participate in. Organizers say it's the largest strike yet in a two-year-old effort to unionize the company’s stores.

The Workers United union chose Starbucks' annual "Red Cup Day" to stage the walkout, since it’s usually one of the busiest days of the year. Starbucks expected to give away thousands of reusable cups Thursday to customers who order holiday drinks.

Workers from locations in Allston, Brighton, Newton and Worcester were part of the strike, organizers said. And at the Starbucks on Commonwealth Avenue near Boston University, workers were outside urging customers to skip their latte for the day.

Sky Bauer-Rowe was a barista at the Boston store, before handing in their notice on Wednesday. They said they were burnt-out from working in an understaffed store, particularly on promotion days.

"We just can't keep up with the demand that Starbucks puts on us, especially on the 'Buy One Get One Free' days," Bauer-Rowe said. "They don't have any extra help for us to help with the demand, so we often have to turn mobile [orders ] off."

Bauer-Rowe also complained about a pest problem at the store.

In a statement, a Starbucks spokesperson said, "Where issues in store jeopardize the well-being of our partners, we have been working with deep care and urgency to take action. We are aware of this issue in particular and are actively working to resolve it in an expedited manner."

The company also said it was prepared to bargain contracts in Massachusetts, but that Workers United had not agreed to meet in five months.

The union said it was expecting more than 5,000 workers nationally to take part in its “Red Cup Rebellion.” Around 30 stores also staged walkouts on Wednesday.

Thursday’s strike was the fifth major labor action by Starbucks workers since a store in Buffalo, New York, became the first to unionize in late 2021. Workers at 110 stores walked out last year on Red Cup Day; most recently, a strike in June protested reports that Starbucks had removed Pride displays from its stores.

But the strikes have had little impact on Starbucks’ sales. For its 2023 fiscal year, which ended Oct. 1, Starbucks reported its revenue rose 12%,to a record $36.0 billion.

Starbucks downplayed any potential impact of the strike Wednesday, saying it would occur at a “small subset” of the company’s 9,600 company-owned U.S. stores.

“We remain committed to working with all partners, side-by-side, to elevate the everyday, and we hope that Workers United’s priorities will shift to include the shared success of our partners and negotiating contracts for those they represent,” Starbucks said in a statement.

At least 363 company-operated Starbucks stores in 41 states have voted to unionize since late 2021. The Starbucks effort was at the leading edge of a period of labor activism that has also seen strikes by Amazon workers, auto workers and Hollywood writers and actors. At least 457,000 workers have participated in 315 strikes in the U.S. just this year, according to Johnnie Kallas, a Ph.D. candidate and the project director of Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker.

Starbucks opposes the unionization effort and has yet to reach a labor agreement with any of the stores that have voted to unionize. The process has been contentious; regional offices with the National Labor Relations Board have issued 111 complaints against Starbucks for unfair labor practices, including refusal to bargain. Starbucks says Workers United is refusing to schedule bargaining sessions.

Starbucks noted that it has started bargaining with the Teamsters union, which organized a Starbucks store outside of Pittsburgh in June 2022. But the two sides have not reached a labor agreement. The Teamsters didn’t say Wednesday whether workers at the unionized store would also be striking.

Relations between Starbucks and Workers United have grown increasingly tense. Last month, Starbucks sued Workers United, saying a pro-Palestinian post on a union account damaged its reputation and demanding that the union stop using the name Starbucks Workers United. Workers United responded with its own lawsuit, saying Starbucks defamed the union by suggesting it supports terrorism and violence.

WBUR's Irina Matchavariani contributed to this report.



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