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via Twitter (@WorkersUnitedNY)

Red Cup Rebellion: Starbucks workers on why they went on strike

Thousands of Starbucks employees took part in a nationwide strike on Red Cup Day this year — here, we ask them why they did it

On Thursday, over 2,000 workers at 112 unionised Starbucks stores across 25 US states staged a strike to coincide with Starbucks’ Red Cup Day. Members of the Starbucks Workers Union picketed outside stores across the country, and say it was the group’s largest single-day strike to date. 

On the day, #RedCupRebellion trended on social media, with many public figures posting in support of workers. “In my view, it is absurd that Howard Schultz — a guy worth some 3.7 BILLION dollars — is pulling out all the stops to deny decent wages and dignity on the job to the very Starbucks workers who helped him amass his billions. Absurd. Solidarity with the workers,” Bernie Sanders wrote on Twitter.

But what is Red Cup Day, why did workers walk out, and what are their demands?

WHAT IS RED CUP DAY?

Red Cup Day is the busiest day of the year for Starbucks in the US. On Red Cup Day, customers can receive a free red, reusable, festive Starbucks’ cup when they order a seasonal beverage like a peppermint mocha or pumpkin spice latte.

It’s a hugely popular promotion: queues often snake out of stores and down whole blocks, with employees reporting that some branches often run out of cups within hours

WHY DID WORKERS WALK OUT?

While Red Cup Day is a fun gimmick for customers, it’s closer to a living hell for workers. On the r/Starbucks subreddit, employees have described it as “the worst day of [the] year” and “The Purge with baristas”. One user called it “a day of pain and suffering… in all my days I’ve worked, I’ve never experienced anything as chaotic, so please be mentally and physically prepared if you work that day.”

But the strike wasn’t just about conditions on Red Cup Day. The strike was launched to protest against Starbucks’ alleged union-busting tactics, failure to bargain with unionised stores, and understaffing. “We chose Red Cup Day because it’s one of the company’s busiest days of the year and we knew that taking a stand across the country and costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars would make a real statement,” says Nicole, a 28-year-old Starbucks employee from Chicago. “We hold the power, we bring in the profits, and yet we reap none of the rewards. It’s time they take us seriously.”

Recently, tensions have mounted as multiple Starbucks union members have reported that Starbucks representatives have refused to engage with workers by showing up to bargaining sessions on Zoom and leaving before discussions can even begin.

Additionally, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) petitioned a federal court in Michigan on Tuesday for a “nationwide cease and desist order”, which would bar Starbucks from firing its employees for union activity. Federal prosecutors also asked the court to reinstate and reimburse one worker who was illegally fired from one of the coffee giant’s stores for participating in union activity.

NLRB directors have issued dozens of complaints accusing Starbucks of illegal tactics, but the company has denied wrongdoing.

WHAT ARE WORKERS’ DEMANDS?

Workers’ demands are simple: that representatives simply listen to and bargain with them. “We’re demanding that Starbucks come to the bargaining table in good faith and stop the reckless and illegal union-busting across the country,” Nicole says. “Staff our stores properly, provide full regular schedules for all partners, and respect us as the ‘partners’ that they insist we are.”

“One of our core demands is for Starbucks to provide adequate staffing to our stores,” says Al, a 23-year-old Starbucks employee from New York. “This would not only improve working conditions, but it would also improve our customers’ experience, too. Starbucks thinks that they can wait us out, but we’re here to rebel against their tactics and we mean business – by shutting down theirs.”

For now, workers are remaining hopeful. “I’m so proud of the partners at my store and across the country for taking a stand, and I’m so thankful to all of the people who came out to support us and stand in solidarity with us,” Nicole says. Al feels similarly. “We had so much community support for our union, not only from the public, but from other local unions,” they say. “We all came together to fight this fight. We want to show Starbucks we are stronger than they assume.”