More than 2,000 employees at 112 Starbucks locations are set to go on a one-day strike Thursday, according to the union which has been organizing stores for the last year.
The union says it is striking to protest the retaliation taken against union supporters nationwide. It is also protesting what it characterizes as the company’s refusal to bargain with the union on a first labor deal. There are 264 stores that have voted in favor of union representation. But no contracts have yet been negotiated even at stores which voted nearly a year ago.
[At least two Starbucks in North Carolina have been unionized – one in Boone, which was first, and a second in Wilmington, according to media reports. Workers at a Starbucks in Asheville voted down a unionization attempt. Neither store was hit by the strike, according to a list from the Starbucks Workers United union and published an CNBC.]
“This is to show them we’re not playing around,” said Tyler Keeling, a 26-year old union supporter who has worked at a Starbucks in Lakewood, California — near Los Angeles — for the last six years. “We’re done with the their anti-union retaliation and them walking away from bargaining.”
Keeling and other union supporters say that it was up to each individual store as to whether or not to participate in the nationwide strike. Many stores have staged brief strikes already over specific issues. But this is the first nationwide action.
“There’s a lot of fear before a store decides to go on strike,” said Michelle Eisen, an organizer of the first Starbucks store to vote in favor of the union last December. “Starbucks has been retaliating against union leaders across the country. But despite that fear, over 2,000 workers across the country are striking today and standing up for one another.”
When Keeling’s store staged a one-day strike in August, Starbucks workers from nearby non-union stores joined the picket line, he said, and some customers brought food and drinks to the strikers.
It’s not clear how many of the stores affected by Thursday’s action will be able to stay open during the strike.
“Culturally Red Cup Day is an important day at Starbucks. People do go crazy over it,” said Keeling. He said holding the strike on a day that has such a heavy volume of customers is a great way call attention to anti-union activities.
The union is calling its strike a “Red Cup Rebellion” and is handing out red Starbucks Workers United union cups to customers instead.
The company was not immediately available for comment on the strike early Thursday. In the past it has denied it has retaliated against any employee for their support of the union, and it has blamed the union for lack of progress at the negotiating table. Starbucks has defended the firings of union supporters that have taken place as proper enforcement of rules that apply to all of its employees, who it refers to as “partners.”
“Interest in a union does not exempt partners from following policies and procedures that apply to all partners,” Starbucks said in an earlier statement.
But this week, the National Labor Relations Board — which oversees union representation votes — filed in federal court for a national cease and desist order to prevent Starbucks from retaliating against union supporters.
The NLRB filing said that there had been a “number and pattern of Starbucks’ unfair labor practices … particularly discharges” against union supporters at it stores.
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