Thousands of unionized Starbucks workers walked off the job Thursday to demand contract negotiations and highlight their grievances over staffing and scheduling issues.
The walkout coincides with an annual Starbucks promotion, Red Cup Day, in which customers receive bright red reusable cups if they order a holiday-themed drink, such as a Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte.
The union representing striking workers, Starbucks Workers United, has said events like Red Cup Day force employees to handle more orders than usual but without enough staff.
Union workers say the company has refused to negotiate over personnel and scheduling issues that are particularly acute those days, and the union filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on the issue this year.
The union represents more than 9,000 Starbucks workers at more than 300 stores nationwide. Employees at some unionized stores began the strike on Wednesday with the aim of surprising the company, which was aware of Thursday’s action.
Starbucks says the union is the side that has impeded bargaining sessions by insisting on holding the meetings online, with rank-and-file members watching, rather than bargaining teams sitting in person.
“We hope Workers United’s priorities will change to include the shared success of our partners and negotiating contracts for those they represent,” company spokesman Andrew Trull said in a statement.
The union is calling on the company to suspend mobile ordering on promotional days, which it says have become more frequent.
Daisy Federspiel-Baier, a shift supervisor at a Starbucks in Seattle, said her store received more than 200 orders in half an hour during an October promotion in which customers could get 50 percent off any drink. The store was so crowded that some drinks and food went to waste and orders were suspended, Federspiel-Baier said.
“I saw how baristas were on the verge of a state of mental breakdown, being verbally berated by customers and feeling pressure from bosses to continue working when it was unreasonable to do so,” he said.
Rachel Simandl is a shift supervisor at a unionized Starbucks in Chicago, where employees struck on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Simandl said chronic understaffing was leaving workers exhausted and hurting business by increasing wait times for customers and reducing service quality.
“Honestly, what we need is to have more coverage on the court,” Ms. Simandl said. “Instead of just three people, have four or five people. It makes a big difference in the way the day flows.”
Thursday’s strike is the latest development in a battle between the company and unions since employees at a Buffalo store voted to form a union in 2021. From stores whose election results have been certified by the National Labor Relations Board , 363 stores voted in favor of unionizing, while 71 voted against unionization.
In September, a labor board judge ruled that Starbucks had violated federal law by limiting benefit increases and improvements to non-union workers. Another administrative judge ruled in March that Starbucks had repeatedly violated federal labor laws by illegally disrupting union organizing and firing employees who tried to unionize.
In June, unionized workers declared a weeklong strike at more than 150 stores, protesting what they said was the company’s ban on Pride Month clothing and treatment of LGBTQ workers, a claim the Management denied. Starbucks said the protest had temporarily closed 21 stores.
Noam Scheiber contributed with reports.