Starbucks workers from over 150 stores in the US, representing nearly 3,500 employees, have gone on strike after the coffee giant and the union representing baristas clashed over claims that the company was not allowing Pride month decorations in its cafes. The strikes began on Friday in Seattle, with more than two dozen additional stores voting on strike authorisations. The union, Starbucks Workers United, is alleging that dozens of US stores were not allowing employees to decorate for Pride month, which suggested a wave of backlash against LGBTQ+ inclusion had reached a perceived liberal bastion in corporate America.
Starbucks denied the allegations and said that it had not revised its guidelines for store decorations. The company’s CEO, Laxman Narasimhan, and Executive Vice President and President for North America, Sara Trilling, emphasised that Starbucks has been and will continue to be at the forefront of supporting the LGBTQIA2+ community. They said that Starbucks would not waver in its commitment and that there had been no change to any of the company’s policies. Starbucks also criticised the union for spreading false information about the company’s policies and benefits.
Starbucks shared a letter from its VP of Partner Resources, May Jensen, to Workers United President Lynne Fox, which demanded the union “cease from knowingly misleading partners.” Starbucks maintains that Workers United has responded to only a quarter of the more than 450 bargaining sessions that Starbucks has proposed for individual stores nationally, to date, and said it is committed to progressing negotiations toward a first contract.
Workers’ Reasons for Striking
The Starbucks workers are striking over claims that the coffee chain is dragging its feet on negotiating contracts. The union alleges that Starbucks is stalling and not bargaining in good faith, despite having non-economic proposals for over eight months and economic proposals for over a month. The union said that Starbucks had failed to tentatively agree to a single line of a single proposal or provide a single counterproposal.
The union also claimed that the company is attempting to limit or take down Pride decorations in some stores. Parker Davis, a 21-year-old barista in San Antonio, Texas, who works at a store that has not had a dispute around Pride decor, said that there is a large percentage of partners at his store who are part of the LGBTQ community and who feel that Starbucks’ continued actions with trying to limit or take down pride decorations just doesn’t make sense with what the company has done in the past.
The public back-and-forth over decorations to celebrate Pride month comes as major brands, including Target and Bud Light, have been targeted for supporting the LGBTQ+ community. In both of those cases, the companies faced opposition from conservative consumers to partnerships with or merchandise for transgender people, and then saw backlash from more liberal customers for perceived deference to the critics. Starbucks workers are also striking over claims that the company is dragging its feet on negotiating contracts.
The roastery where the strikes started has not had any disputes over Pride decorations, but is also striking in solidarity. About two dozen unionised employees protested outside the store during the day. The location was closed after it briefly opened, a Starbucks spokesperson said. Starbucks has more than 9,000 company-owned locations in the US, and over 300 company-owned stores have voted to unionise since the first filing took place in August 2021, but Starbucks and Workers United have yet to agree to a contract.
Mari Cosgrove, a 28-year-old barista at the Seattle location, said the roastery wants to show solidarity with all workers who have been discriminated against in the company. She added that it feels like an attack when Pride flags are taken down. The partners in these stores really appreciate being able to be seen and feel like this is a community space for them. Starbucks has prided itself on being a third place, including for its workers.
Starbucks workers in the US have gone on strike over claims that the company is not allowing Pride month decorations in its cafes, and for stalling negotiations on contracts. Starbucks has denied the allegations and called on the union to stop spreading false information. The strike is the latest in a series of actions by workers in the US, and comes as major brands face backlash from conservative consumers and backlash from more liberal customers for perceived deference to critics.