Starbucks workers strike across the U.S. on company’s biggest day of the year

Thousands of Starbucks partners are on strike for “Red Cup Day.”

A photo of the USC Village Starbucks.

Starbucks workers across the country are striking for “Red Cup Day,” the company’s busiest day of the year.

Thousands of Starbucks employees at over 100 locations in the United States went on strike Thursday in the largest ever single-day protest in support of the Starbucks Workers Union. Five locations in Los Angeles are participating in the strike: Cypress Park, Anaheim, DTLA, Long Beach and Lakewood.

The protest, dubbed the “Red Cup Rebellion,” coincides with Starbucks Red Cup Day, an annual event where Starbucks hands out reusable holiday themed cups. Many consider Red Cup Day to be Starbucks’ busiest day of the year as coffee drinkers clamber to get their hands on the collector’s edition plastic cups.

Tyler Keely, a 26-year-old unionization supporter from a Starbucks location in Long Beach, explained that the strike was in protest of intentional short staffing, labor cuts and refusal to bargain.

“We want Starbucks to know that we’re not playing [around],” Keely said. “We want them to get to the table so we can negotiate a contract.”

Starbucks workers began a push to unionize stores in the summer of 2021. A few stores in Buffalo, New York filed petitions to unionize that August, and a few months later, the company had its first unionized store.

But their progress hasn’t come without hurdles. Starbucks Workers United argues that Starbucks is intentionally suppressing unionization efforts by not bargaining in good faith and delaying workers efforts to obtain contracts and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has accused Starbucks of closing locations which had the necessary support for unionization.

Veronica Gonzalez, 26, a shift manager for the Starbucks location on Figueroa and Cypress, applauded the unionization efforts.

“My store is the busiest store and we were able to shut it down. We’re losing the store between $12,000 to $15,000 solely based on the fact that today is a Starbucks holiday,” said Gonzalez. “We want Starbucks to come to the table and bargain with us and sit at the table with us as true partners.”

Andrew Salazar, who has worked as a Starbucks barista for the past eight years, explained that his location in Downtown L.A. voted unanimously in favor of unionization. It has been over a year and a half since their vote and the location still has not solidified a contract.

“I hope that people would just start to see us more like humans instead of just bots that just make coffee,” he said.

While not all employees elected to participate in the strike, many are still dissatisfied with their work experience. A number of Starbucks partners have been reluctant to join the movement out of a fear of losing their positions.

“We have seen the repercussions that have taken place towards baristas and other partners if they were to strike,” said Olivia Sizler, a shift supervisor at a Starbucks in Strongsville, Ohio. “Seeing partners fired because they expressed their views, other partners and I have stayed quiet to avoid being dismissed.”

The company released a statement Thursday, indicating that they were open to negotiation.

“We remain committed to all partners and will continue to work together, side-by-side, to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone,” the statement read.

But Sizler says that she and her colleagues don’t feel that commitment. Starbucks sends out weekly surveys to collect partner feedback, she said, but these surveys aren’t discussed or promoted enough to have any real impact.

“Our views are easily passed over,” she said.

It remains to be seen what impact the strike will have, but partners are hopeful that the loss of business will lead to Starbucks taking contract negotiations more seriously. Micah Lakes, a barista at a Seattle store less than three miles from Starbucks headquarters, sees the strike as a chance to give Starbucks a taste of their own medicine.

“It’s been almost a year since we told Starbucks that we are unionizing this location, and we still have not been able to get them to agree to a time for contract negotiations,” said Lakes in an interview with PBS. “We’re not going to work the day that is the most important for you if you’re not going to be willing to meet up with us and talk with us about what we need from the company.”