Starbucks workers hold strikes in at least 17 states amid union drive

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Joshua Bessex/AP</span>
Photograph: Joshua Bessex/AP

Workers at Starbucks have held over 55 different strikes in at least 17 states in the US in recent months over the company’s aggressive opposition to a wave of unionization.

According to an estimate by Starbucks Workers United, the strikes have cost Starbucks over $375,000 in lost revenue. The union created a $1m strike fund in June 2022 to support Starbucks workers through their strikes and several relief funds have been established for strikes and to support workers who have lost their jobs.

Related: ‘Pure propaganda’: inside Starbucks’ anti-union tactics

Starbucks employees have alleged over 75 workers have been fired in retaliation for union organizing this year, and hundreds of allegations of misconduct by Starbucks related to the union campaign are currently under review at the National Labor Relations Board, including claims of shutting down stores to bust unions, firing workers and intimidating and threatening workers from unionizing. Starbucks has denied all allegations.

More than 200 Starbucks stores around the US have won their union votes, with dozens of stores currently waiting for their election votes.

Sam Amato worked at Starbucks for 13 years in Buffalo, New York, before he was terminated on 5 August, a decision he argues is retaliatory for his strong support for unionization at his store and other Starbucks locations around the US.

He first became involved in the union organizing efforts in the Buffalo area in August 2021 as the first Starbucks stores in the US and his own store won their union election in early 2022.

In June, Amato and his co-workers were transferred to different stores while their own store underwent remodeling, where he said workers were heavily scrutinized by the store manager through disciplinary actions and write-ups.

“My store manager pulled me aside and said that due to an incident when I closed the lobby I was being separated,” said Amato. “Any questions I asked, my manager said they were unable to answer and that I would have to call Starbucks corporate to get an answer.”

He described that throughout the union organizing efforts, there had been a high turnover of store managers in the Buffalo area, as well as many firings and resignations of workers that have created understaffing issues, which resulted in closing the lobby and operating just the drive-thru in 3 July.

Immediately following his firing, several co-workers and other union supporters, shocked at his firing, began an indefinite strike at the Starbucks location in Buffalo to demand his reinstatement.

“I was fired because I’m a union leader and I was very vocal about it,” said Amato. “Starbucks pretends to be an ally and so progressive but they are the opposite and I genuinely have been shocked at how low they’re willing to go.”

Starbucks did not comment on Sam Amato’s firing.

Amid the wave of union elections at Starbucks, the company has rolled out new wage increases and benefits corporate wide, but has withheld the new pay increases and benefits from unionized workers despite the calls from these workers to enact these changes for them as they push for the company to negotiate a first contract with the unionized stores.

On 1 August, a unionized Starbucks store in Jacksonville, Florida, went on strike for one day to demand they also receive the new pay increases and benefits, the day they were implemented company wide.

“In the last week of July, I think people in my store were really starting to get really aggravated and pissed off that we weren’t receiving the raises,” said Mason Boykin, a Starbucks worker at the store.

Boykin argued that since their store unionized, workers had experienced schedule changes and hour cuts, which they allege are unfair labor practices.

“As far as striking goes, I think unionized stores recognize that the only way we’re going to receive what we’re worth is by uniting together and demanding it and that’s through striking,” added Boykin.

Several Starbucks stores in Massachusetts also held a one-day strike over the wage and benefits issue and two stores have continued the strike, while one store in Boston has been on an indefinite strike since mid-July in demand a store manager be removed or reprimanded for training over allegations of threats and retaliation against workers.

Jordie Adams, a Starbucks worker for six years currently at a non-unionized store in Boston, Massachusetts, after transferring from a unionized store in Connecticut, has been heavily involved in the strike and union organizing in Boston.

“Withholding of benefits is definitely affecting people from trying to pursue organizing their stores, which is obviously what Starbucks corporate is looking to do,” said Adams.

After working for Starbucks for six years, she said it had been eye-opening to see a different side of corporate that has aggressively opposed unionization.

“We all love Starbucks, we love coffee and we think that we can make it better if we’re just given the shot to do it,” she said.

A spokesperson for Starbucks said in an email: “We currently have strikes happening outside store locations in specific locations in the US. Starbucks has great partners and we value their contributions. We respect our partners’ right to engage in any legally protected activity or protest without retaliation.”

They added: “Once a store unionizes, no changes to benefits are legally allowed to be made without good faith collective bargaining. Partners still have access to all Starbucks benefits already in place when the petition was filed, but any changes to wages, benefits and working conditions that Starbucks establishes after that time would not apply to and would have to be reviewed in bargaining.”