‘No Contract, No Coffee’: Starbucks Workers United Strike Hurt Holiday Sales

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By Vanessa Bartlett

At the start of the holiday season, unionized Starbucks workers at hundreds of stores went on strike to demand that Starbucks sit down at the bargaining table with workers. Community members also mobilized to hand out fliers in front of non-union stores, encouraging customers to call Starbucks and share their support for workers. 

Red Cup Day is an annual event where Starbucks locations give out reusable red coffee cups to customers who order holiday-themed drinks. This promotion is highly anticipated by ‘Bucks aficionados, and is typically one of the most profitable days of the year for Starbucks. 

This year, Starbucks experienced a noticeable decrease in sales on Red Cup Day in comparison to last year. This dip in foot traffic may have been caused by the Red Cup Rebellion and other efforts to boycott Starbucks as a part of a BDS strategy for supporting Palestine.

Due to chronic understaffing, employees say this day is also one of the worst days to work at Starbucks. Cody Hale, who works at the Newton Corner Starbucks, said that the location experienced a high volume of orders–over 80 orders every 30 minutes on the morning of Red Cup Day. 

Pre-covid, Hale said that Red Cup Days might have been adequately staffed, but post-covid, “not so much”. 

Hale said “We didn’t have as many campaign supporters [on the picket line] this time, as opposed to our first strike back in January. But it was still pretty productive.”

“We did our best to inform and educate the customers about what’s going on with the strike… and we managed to get a lot of people to walk away, and go elsewhere, like Dunkin,” Hale said.

Long lines and wait times for drinks are issues that Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) hopes to address in a contract with Starbucks. But two years after the first Starbucks unionized in Buffalo, NY, the company has dragged its feet in bargaining.

“All these strikes wouldn’t be happening if [Starbucks] didn’t delay,” said Hale. “I just wish that they would get it done faster, and actually come to the bargaining table.” 

Matthew Schreiner, a member of Boston DSA who participated in a flyering event at a Starbucks location in Medford, said that customers responded positively to workers’ demands. “The Boston area seems to be pretty receptive,” Schreiner said. “They were quite enthusiastically accepting the cards. Various people ran out of cards. So I’m guessing they gave away a couple hundred [flyers].”

Despite feeling the pressure from community members, Starbucks has played the tough guy in the press, and shows no indication of being willing to come to the bargaining table any time soon. 
As their tally of unfair labor practices against union stores grows, Starbucks can certainly expect SBWU to continue catching the public eye (and hurting their bottom line) with tactical protests like this year’s Red Cup Rebellion.

Vanessa Bartlett is a staff organizer for UAW, and a member of Boston DSA. She has a background in print and radio journalism, but please don’t hold that against her.

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