Will a strike on ‘Red Cup Day’ get Starbucks to change its anti-union tune?

Sources: Twitter/@SBWorkersUnited; @COWCenter
Nov 17, 2022

Baristas at over 100 Starbucks stores across the country have called a one-day strike for today, one of the chain’s busiest days of the year (AKA Red Cup Day).

The workers, who are members of Starbucks Workers United, said that they called for the action in response to the coffee giant’s reprisals against union organizers and for its refusal to bargain on a labor deal for its members.

The total number of stores calling for strikes has been reported to be 113 by CNBC and 112 by CNN and The Washington Post. The stores represent less than half the 264 Starbucks that have voted in favor of joining Workers United, an organizing affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Starbucks operates nearly 9,000 locations across the U.S.

Red Cup Day represents Starbucks’ official kickoff of the holiday season, when customers who make qualifying purchases receive a reusable travel mug. This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the promotion.

Striking baristas are calling today the “Red Cup Rebellion” with more than 2,000 workers spread across 25 states said to be taking part. Workers, who plan to picket at store entrances in locations across the country, say they will hand out red cups designed by the union. The cups are meant to resemble the hand of the Grinch holding a Christmas ball decorated with the Starbucks Workers United logo.

Baristas are hoping that their action will get Starbucks to modify its aggressive approach to union workers and begin to negotiate on a good faith basis.

The coffee chain claims that it is willing to negotiate with workers’ representatives but that it is the union that is preventing talks from happening.

A.J. Jones, executive vice president of communications at Starbucks, told NPR that the chain has been “overly aggressive” in trying to start labor talks. He said the coffee giant has offered to sit down with the union but that its representatives have called for the talks to be recorded or broadcast over social media.

“Under the National Labor Relations Act, you are not allowed to record bargaining sessions. And that actually is a clear violation of the act because of what’s being discussed,” Mr Jones said.

The union claims that Mr. Jones is misrepresenting its position, that the union is simply trying to include its members in the talks by having them on Zoom calls, which is allowed under law.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you expect to come out of the one-day strike being called by members of Starbucks Workers United? Is it in the best interests of Starbucks to reach a detente with the union or should management continue to aggressively push back against unions at every turn?

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"This fractious issue isn’t going to just go away — the balance of power between corporations and workers is shifting. This could go on for a very long time."

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13 Comments on "Will a strike on ‘Red Cup Day’ get Starbucks to change its anti-union tune?"

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Mark Ryski

It’s clear that Starbucks’ labor issues are not resolved. Despite Howard Schultz’s efforts, this one-day strike brings national attention to their labor dispute and puts additional pressure on the company. Management has made the decision to take a hard line against unions, and that’s their prerogative. Starbucks needs to resolve these festering issues as it’s clear that they are not going away anytime soon.

Cathy Hotka

This fractious issue isn’t going to just go away — the balance of power between corporations and workers is shifting. This could go on for a very long time.

Steve Montgomery

One sure result will be unhappy customers who come to a Starbucks location and find the workers on strike. A one-day strike will not change the relationship issues between the company and its workers, in fact it may harden their positions. As Cathy noted this is likely to be a long, drawn-out process.

David Spear

The Red Cup Day strike will have little operational effect, but Starbucks management would be wise to move as quickly as they can to find resolution on these issues. Nothing but negative PR emanates from these types of situations. Note to the new CEO — move with a sense of urgency.

Lisa Goller

Today’s strike will earn global publicity for workers’ rights.

The tables have turned. Last year we had The Great Resignation, a war for talent and employee activism. Now we see layoffs, hiring freezes, soaring inflation, an economic slowdown, store closures, robo-labor and several failed unionization attempts. Retail employees have less power in 2022.

Expect Starbucks to keep pushing back as retail power shifts in favor of companies.

Mark Self

In the long run, the only outcome of the strike will be unhappy customers. Starbucks management has reasons for taking this position and if this is a strategic error on their part the market will penalize them. However when I see “we are hiring” signs with $15-$20 an hour positions available it is difficult for me to see the market (either the financial market or the consumer market) sympathizing with union organizers.

Ryan Mathews

Not much ever comes out of a one-day strike, especially when it only impacts 100 stores. That said, it’s time for Starbucks’ management to seriously sit down, have a lot of decaffeinated whatever and rethink their approach to this whole thing. For one thing their customers are likely to grow more supportive of the union, not less, and for another the union movement not only isn’t going away, it’s likely to expand. If a consumer boycott becomes part of that expansion – and if I were a union organizer that’s where I’d be focusing my attention – Starbucks could find itself in a world of hurt in terms of bad press, not to mention revenue loss.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

It makes the most sense for workers, retailers and unions to come together with open minds, especially given the many shifts in power between the three over the past couple of years.

Rich Kizer

I don’t think the strike will do any thing, except expand the chasm between management and staff.

Doug Garnett

Starbucks and the union both need to take care. Customer satisfaction can be hurt by these efforts – and it’s not clear whether the company or the union would get consumer blame. We are all a bit tired of slowdowns after the pandemic and with the Great Resignation.

Craig Sundstrom

What I expect is a post next week asking “How successful was the ‘strike’?” Not much more. It’s in Starbucks best interest(s) to be the best coffee house around; how that’s specifically accomplished, I don’t know.

13 days 3 hours ago

There is no strike at Dunkin’, Caribou, Peets, Dutch Bros., McDonald’s…. Strikes that lead to sales losses will just cause more location closures.

Brad Halverson

Worker strikes now could backfire and seem a little tone deaf while customers are feeling more nervous about holiday spending, seeing numerous companies cutting workforces upwards to 10%, and the overall rattled state of the economy.

Starbucks may soon reduce its own capital and labor budgets post-holiday period if customers are spending less in store. And you might not want to be remembered as the stores or workers creating discord.

"This fractious issue isn’t going to just go away — the balance of power between corporations and workers is shifting. This could go on for a very long time."

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