Workers at a Cedar Avenue Starbucks are on a two-day strike over contract negotiations, allegations of unfair labor practices, and understaffing issues, just three months after their successful unionization in May. They join striking baristas in Boston, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and other cities as Starbucks workers attempt to usher their new unions from successful votes — 207 Starbucks in 33 states have unionized since December 2021 — to contract negotiations with management, where they’re seeking better wages and working conditions.
Cars honked their support for the Cedar Avenue picket line Monday, August 1 — striking workers had been there since Sunday, holding “Fair Wages for Fair Work” signs and blasting music. “We organized our store in May, and since then, we’ve dealt with staffing cuts and unilateral changes being made to the store,” says Emily Mahoney, a barista at the store. The two-day strike, she says, signals to management that workers are united and ready to mobilize if a longer strike becomes necessary down the line. “It’s them trying to see if they can push us around. We’re saying, ‘Hey, you can’t push us around — we’re willing to push back.’”
Mahoney says workers have attempted to begin contract negotiations, but so far, management hasn’t met them at the table. “We sent a bargaining request and request for information to them months ago, and they finally got back to us,” says Mahoney. “But it was essentially a finger wag saying, ‘How dare you ask?’ Since then, it’s basically radio silence.”
Another issue that triggered the strike, workers say, was management’s decision to shift store hours a half an hour later for both opening and closing. That change may seem insignificant, but it’s a violation of federal labor law, which prevents companies from making unilateral changes in working conditions for unionized employees. Mahoney interprets it as a power play. She says workers at the Cedar Avenue store have filed an official Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. (Eater has reached out to the NLRB to confirm this complaint.)
Workers say understaffing has also become a chronic issue. “Typically, we should have two people in our drive-thru,” says Rosita Montes-Lopez, a barista at the store. “You’ve seen our drive-thru, it gets pretty crazy. There’s days when we only have one person. You’re taking orders, you’re giving orders, you’re receiving payments, and you’re handing out the orders. Sometimes you’re even helping make drinks. It can be very stressful.” She says sufficient staffing is crucial to the store’s basic daily operations.
The Cedar Avenue strike is just one chapter in the Starbucks labor movement that’s been unfolding nationwide since December 2021, when the first store successfully unionized in Buffalo, New York. Minnesota joined the fray this spring: In April, a Snelling Avenue Starbucks was the first to unionize in a 14-1 vote. Three others have since unionized, two have voted against unionizing, and three others have elections upcoming.
Starbucks, meanwhile, faces a slew of allegations of unfair labor practices: A complaint by the regional director of the NLRB in May included more than 200. In March, the company brought back historically anti-union CEO Howard Schultz, who made headlines for confronting a pro-union barista in Long Beach in April. Later that month, the U.S. labor board sued the company over retaliation claims after several activist employees were fired; in June, an NLRB judge found that the company had illegally retaliated against two Philadelphia employees and ordered it to cease and desist from interfering with union activity. In a statement on the Cedar Avenue strike, Starbucks said it “respects our partners’ right to engage in any legally protected activity or protest without retaliation.”
Esau Chavez, an organizer with Workers United, joined the Cedar Avenue picket line Monday. “Workers have rights, and this is one of them,” says Chavez. “It’s certainly unfair to see the company promote itself as such a progressive company, at the same time, see them cut hours to where people can’t [qualify for] insurance. It’s a grueling position where workers are pumping out coffee and getting audited all the time about their times. Workers are making their voices heard, and I’m really, really proud as an organizer to be standing with them.”