Starbucks workers at more than 100 U.S. stores are on strike Thursday in their biggest labor action since a campaign to unionize company stores began late last year.
The walkouts coincide with Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day, when the company offers free reusable cups to customers who order a holiday drink. Workers say it’s often one of the busiest days of the year. Starbucks declined to say how many red cups it plans to distribute.
Workers say they are seeking better pay, more consistent hours and higher staffing levels at busy stores. Stores in 25 states planned to join the labor action, according to Starbucks Workers United, the group organizing the effort. Strikers hand out their own red mugs with union logos.
Starbucks, which opposes the organizing effort, said it is aware of the walkouts and respects its employees’ right to lawfully protest. The Seattle-based company noted that the protests were taking place at a small number of its 9,000 company-operated U.S. locations.
“We remain committed to all of our partners and will continue to work together, side by side, to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone,” the company said in a statement Thursday.
Some workers have planned to picket all day while others will take shorter walkouts. The union said the aim was to close stores during strikes and noted that the company usually struggled to recruit staff on Red Cup day due to the crowds.
Willow Montana, a shift manager at a Starbucks store in Brighton, Massachusetts, planned to strike because Starbucks had not begun bargaining with the store despite a successful union vote in April.
“If the company is not negotiating in good faith, why should we come to work where we are understaffed, underpaid and overworked?” Montana said.
Others, including Michelle Eisen, a labor organizer at one of the first stores to organize in Buffalo, New York, said workers were angry that Starbucks had promised higher wages and benefits. to non-union stores. Starbucks says it abides by the law and cannot give unionized stores pay raises without negotiation.
At least 257 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since late last year, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Fifty-seven stores held votes where workers chose not to unionize.
Starbucks and the union have entered into contract negotiations across 53 stores, with 13 more sessions planned, Starbucks Workers United said. No agreement has been reached so far.
The process has been controversial. Earlier this week, an NLRB regional manager filed an injunction against Starbucks in federal court, claiming the company violated labor laws by firing a union organizer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The regional manager asked the court to order Starbucks to reinstate the employee and stop interfering with the nationwide organizing drive.
It was the fourth time the NLRB has asked a federal court to intervene. In August, a federal judge ruled that Starbucks had to reinstate seven union organizers who were fired in Memphis, Tennessee. A similar case in Buffalo has yet to be decided, while a federal judge ruled against the NLRB in a case in Phoenix.
Meanwhile, Starbucks has asked the NLRB to temporarily suspend all union elections at its stores in the United States, citing claims by a board employee that regional officials improperly coordinated union organizers. A decision in this case is pending.