Starbucks workers at more than 100 stores across the United States said they were going on strike Thursday in what would be the biggest industrial action since a campaign to unionize company stores began in the end of last year.
The walkouts are to coincide with Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day, when the company offers free reusable cups to customers who order a holiday drink. Workers say it’s often one of the busiest days of the year. Starbucks declined to say how many red cups it plans to distribute.
Workers say they are seeking better pay, more consistent hours and higher staffing levels at busy stores. Starbucks opposes the organizing effort, saying the company works best when it works directly with employees. The Seattle coffee giant has more than 9,000 company-owned stores in the United States
Stores in 25 states planned to join the labor action, according to Starbucks Workers United, the group organizing the effort. Some workers planned to picket all day while others planned shorter walkouts. The union said the goal was to close stores during the walkouts.
Willow Montana, a shift manager at a Starbucks store in Brighton, Massachusetts, planned to strike because Starbucks had not begun bargaining with the store despite a successful union vote in April.
“If the company is not negotiating in good faith, why should we come to work where we are understaffed, underpaid and overworked?” Montana said.
Others, including Michelle Eisen, a labor organizer at one of the first stores to organize in Buffalo, New York, said workers were angry that Starbucks promised higher wages and benefits to stores not unionized. Starbucks says it abides by the law and cannot give unionized stores pay raises without negotiation.
At least 257 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since late last year, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Fifty-seven stores held votes where workers chose not to unionize.
Starbucks and the union have begun contract negotiations at 53 stores, with 13 more sessions planned, Starbucks Workers United said. No agreement has been reached so far.
The process has been controversial. Earlier this week, an NLRB regional manager filed an injunction against Starbucks in federal court, claiming the company violated labor laws by firing a union organizer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The regional manager asked the court to order Starbucks to reinstate the employee and stop interfering with the nationwide organizing drive.
It was the fourth time the NLRB has asked a federal court to intervene. In August, a federal judge ruled that Starbucks should reinstate seven union organizers who had been fired in Memphis, Tennessee. A similar case in Buffalo has yet to be decided, while a federal judge ruled against the NLRB in a case in Phoenix.
Meanwhile, Starbucks asked the NLRB to temporarily suspend all union elections at its U.S. stores, citing allegations from a board employee that regional officials miscoordinated union organizers. A decision in this case is pending.