Red Cup Rebellion: Starbucks workers on strike for their labor rights

Over 5,000 workers organized within their union, Starbucks Workers United, went on strike this Thursday in over 300 stores across the country, demanding their labor rights.

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By Juan Pablo Pardo

This Thursday marked the largest strike in the history of Starbucks in the United States. The main demands were to secure a labor contract, pay rises, improved working conditions, and the hiring of more staff.

The strike was called to coincide with ‘Red Cup Day,’ which is one of the busiest days of the year. It’s an annual promotion where the coffee chain gives reusable cups to customers ordering holiday drinks. This leads to an enormous influx of customers in the stores, while the company refuses to hire more workers on those days.

This led the organizers of Starbucks Workers United to call for the strike on that very day, naming it the ‘Red Cup Rebellion.’ As Juniper Schweitzer, who has been working for Starbucks for 16 years, stated, ‘We basically have an infinite amount of drinks, not enough staff, we’re paid poorly, and we’re fed up with it.’

A strike against Starbucks’ union busting practices.

The strike on Thursday was what is known as an ULP Strike (Unfair Labor Practices strike). It is a strike against illegal and anti-union actions by company executives.

In that regard, over 200 complaints have already been filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regarding Starbucks’ union busting practices. This is a company that systematically attacks the union and workers’ rights to unionize.

Despite nearly two years passing since the first store voted in favor of unionizing, Starbucks refuses to engage in discussions for a contract. They also fail to address complaints such as the increase in staff during promotional days, as workers reported yesterday.

The fight is against a billionaire corporation that just a few weeks ago reported a 12% increase in profits this year, reaching a record of 36 billion dollars. Meanwhile, Starbucks denies its workers raises and labor rights, cynically calling them ‘partners’.

The company publicly keeps declaring the supposed ‘lack of significance’ of the unionization process, trying to diminish its weight. However, their actions speak to the contrary. They spend millions on union busting campaigns and launch all sorts of attacks.

For instance, last month, Starbucks sued the union, alleging that a pro-Palestinian publication they posted ‘harmed its reputation’ and demanded that the union stop using the name Starbucks Workers United. The SBWU responded by reaffirming its commitment to Palestine and filed its own lawsuit, stating that Starbucks had defamed the union.

The unionization process is growing

Starbucks Workers United has been at the forefront of the extensive unionization process in the United States, which is growing, especially among young workers. It’s a lengthy and challenging process as they must unionize one store at a time, facing the company’s staunch anti-union policies across thousands of stores.

The process began in December 2021, when the first unionized store was successfully approved in Buffalo, New York. From that moment until today, there have been at least 363 stores in 41 states that have gained their union. That’s equivalent to one store every two days.

The strike on Thursday was the most significant since the formation of the union. In 2022, during the last ‘Red Cup Day,’ there were 110 stores on strike. This year, the number more than doubled.

Furthermore, in June, over 150 stores closed or went on strike for several days, with protests at their doors. In addition to the workers’ demand for recognition of the Union, the issue was marked by the company’s refusal to display decorations and take measures in support of the LGBT+ community during Pride month.

The 2023 Red Cup Rebellion demonstrates that the strength and organization of the workers continue to grow, and their actions are becoming increasingly significant, with 5,000 workers on strike this Thursday. Furthermore, on the same day of the strike, the union reported yet another new store where the election was won.

Starbucks is an immense company with nearly 10,000 stores across the country, making it clear that there is still a lot of work ahead. However, the union’s actions have a growing impact, with an increasing number of stores unionizing. The company is showing escalating concern and attacks against the union.

That’s why it’s crucial to support this workers’ organizing process and expand it nationwide to further strengthen the historic process of union resurgence in the country

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