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While customers on Thursday morning were headed to Starbucks for Red Cup Day, employees fighting for union rights showed up to strike. On Red Cup Day, one of Starbucks busiest days, customers can purchase a reusable holiday cup that gets 10 cents off each purchase. A total of 112 stores in the United States began striking yesterday, seven of which are in New York City.
In Queens, union members of worker-led union Starbucks Workers United and employees at the Astoria-Ditmars location were up at 5 a.m., passing out their own red cups, parodies that showed a Christmas-themed Starbucks Workers United logo, and free coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. The location unionized in June but has met pushback from corporate and its managers. Employees expressed their discontent with corporate, citing existing benefits revoked while new benefits are only only granted to non-union shops, a blatant violation of labor law. The location has also been plagued by being understaffed and shifts in manager roles.
When Faith Bianchi moved to New York City in December 2019, she wanted to better get to know her community in the city. She took a job at the Astoria-Ditmars location. But then things started to take a turn. When a new manager stepped in, it was harder than Faith expected. Under new management, work became unbearable during peak hours. “We would have four people scheduled during peak, and sometimes during the peak, we’re doing 80 orders in half an hour. We felt totally undervalued and we were being worked like dogs. It was just really difficult.” They began their union efforts then and have received intense pushback from corporate since.
“Sometimes during the peak, we’re doing 80 orders in half an hour. We felt totally undervalued.”
“We’ve been reaching out to Starbucks to bargain with them since [unionizing]. And they have just ignored us or straight out refused. A few weeks ago, we delivered our on management, our demands, which was simply that we wanted more staffing,” said Caera Strainchamps, a barista at the location since mid-2021. “That was not granted.”
The store normally opens at 5:30 a.m. but did not open until an hour later due to being understaffed. They were also not accepting mobile orders on the Starbucks app as a result. “I’m working my shift which would have been four to 10. So, I’ll be here from four to 10,” Strainchamps said.
Starbucks has been repeatedly accused of union busting and not bargaining in good faith this year. The Astoria-Ditmars location made it into the news earlier this year for firing Austin Locke five days after he led union efforts with Starbucks Workers United. Locke attended the strike Thursday morning. “I’m trying to get my job back, and I’m just still out here trying to get the working class what they deserve,” said Locke. “If I can’t get my job back, I’ll just do the same thing somewhere else.”
At the strikes and on social media, union members are taking part in what they call the Red Cup Rebellion.
Near Times Square, a strike took place at the Starbucks and Amazon Go location on the corner of 40th St. and 8th Ave. Employees handed out free Krispy Kreme to guests. At the Amazon Go partner location, in addition to traditional barista duties, Starbucks workers must assist customers in navigating Amazon Go technology without extra pay. “We work both a Starbucks and Amazon position in this store and we get paid the same amount of money that any other Starbucks partner would,” barista Jay Tosa said. “Two jobs, one worker.”
Picketing workers at the 40th St. and 8th Ave. location told The Indypendent that Starbucks had to call in five managers and one district manager in order to be able to keep the store open on Red Cup Day, due to the strike.
Starbucks reported a 24% increase in revenue, totaling $29.1 billion in net revenue for 2021. Still, it has ignored the union demands for increased pay. Aaron Cirillo has been working at the location for a year and a half but got involved with the union efforts this July. “We’re doing this on Red Cup Day because it’s their busiest day of the year,” said Cirillo. “We need to show them that they are not allowed to get away with making all this money and not giving us a proper wage.”
“If I can’t get my job back, I’ll just do the same thing somewhere else.”
Cirillo also said that the union members tried advocating for the union quietly with guests, but managers asked them to stop as it was ‘distracting’ customers. “We’re allowed to talk about the union in the store as long as it’s not inflammatory or derogatory,” he added. “It is not legal thing for them to do.”
Bianchi said she’s staying and fighting for future baristas. “I’m still there in hopes that for our store, working conditions can get better. Yeah, I think it’s going to be a long process. But I think it can get better.”