One day ahead of an annual Starbucks shareholders meeting, Starbucks workers in cities across the United States — from Seattle to Philadelphia, Knoxville, New York City and Oviedo near Orlando, Florida — joined a national strike action today organized by their union, Starbucks Workers United.
“Starbucks stores across the country are striking to demand an end to Starbucks' illegal union-busting campaign. While the company keeps a metaphorical 'empty chair' for us in the boardroom, we're demanding a real seat at the table!” the union wrote on Twitter.
Starbucks employees at over 100 locations went on strike Wednesday, according to the union, in solidarity with a march on Starbucks’ company headquarters in Seattle.
A group of about 20 Starbucks workers and community supporters were gathered outside of a Starbucks in Oviedo located at 305 E. Mitchell Hammock Road on Wednesday morning, holding signs and asking customers not to cross the picket line.
At Central Florida’s only unionized Starbucks in Oveido, where workers have joined a national protest day of action with workers at over 100 Starbucks locations nationwide @sbworkerorlando @SBWorkersUnited pic.twitter.com/G98JNhTryN— McKenna Schueler (@SheCarriesOn) March 22, 2023
Since December 2021, coffee shop baristas and shift supervisors at nearly 300 of approximately 9,000 corporate-owned Starbucks locations across the U.S. have voted to unionize with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
But none have managed to secure a union contract, which could stipulate agreements on things such as wages, scheduling, and other job benefits and working conditions.
The union says Starbucks is dragging its feet on meeting them at the bargaining table, while Starbucks blames the union.
“Rather than publicizing rallies and protests, we encourage Workers United to live up to their obligations by responding to our proposed sessions and meeting us in-person to move the good faith bargaining process forward,” a spokesperson for Starbucks told Orlando Weekly in a statement.
Starbucks workers at the location in Oviedo, a small city in Florida just outside of Orlando, say the delay in bargaining is occurring at their location as well.
And they haven’t even gotten a date from management for when that would begin.
Last June, their store was the first (and only) Starbucks location in Central Florida to unionize. An attempt at a Starbucks in nearby Winter Park, following alleged union-busting behavior by company management, was ultimately unsuccessful.
Elsewhere in Florida, a store in Jacksonville, Florida, is also on strike today and there are at least four others that are unionized across Florida.
But frustration is running high.
In Oviedo, several workers told Orlando Weekly that their hours have been cut, and that they’re still exempted from Starbucks’ fairly recent credit card tipping option that’s been afforded exclusively to non-union locations in the U.S. (Starbucks claims this is a job benefit that must be negotiated with unionized stores).
That’s a cut of $200 to $400 from a worker’s paycheck, according to Celio Sibayan, a 22-year-old barista at the Oviedo location who’s working part-time as he studies at the University of Central Florida. That financial loss “is significant,” he said.
Any extra cash helps, after all, in a region that’s seen rent prices shoot up 30% since 2020.
Base pay for baristas at his store is $15 per hour, he said. Shift supervisors can make $19 or $20.
A living wage for a single working adult with no dependents in Seminole County, where Oviedo’s located, is $18.85 — and that’s assuming you’re paying just around $1,182 a month for housing. Average rent for a 913-square-foot apartment in Seminole County is $1,714, according to RentCafe.
Courtney Thompson, another worker at the Oviedo location, said that cuts to workers’ hours is also a major issue that’s recently gotten worse, particularly for shift supervisors. Because of that, Thompson said she stepped down from her higher-paying position as a shift supervisor to work as a barista, because she was consistently unable to get the 25 hours a week she’d asked for.
“Before, we were allowed to pick up shifts but now we're being denied. Like some people are getting sent home,” she said.
It’s disrupting their experience as workers, but also impacting the experience of their customers, she said, who complain about the fact that there’s no credit card tipping at their store and that lines at their location are exceptionally long.
Just a couple of days ago, Thompson said they had just four people on a shift, expected to run the drive-through and serve customers inside the store by themselves. One person was to prepare the food and take orders, and another person was tasked with keeping everything stocked, making sure baristas have cups, ice and other supplies.
They’ve asked for more staff on a shift, but to no avail, said Thompson.
“There’s no real support,” she said. “It’s a shame because we have great people at the store who work really hard.”
On Wednesday morning, just three people were inside the store, including the store manager, according to Clay Blastic, a shift supervisor and union leader. Usually there’s five to six, or up to nine during peak hours.
Even more understaffed than usual, the store was forced to shutter at 12:30 p.m., said Blastic. According to Google, they’re usually open until 9 p.m.
A group of workers and community supporters gathered at the entrances to the Starbucks store Wednesday morning, just off busy East Mitchell Hammock Road, asking drivers to go elsewhere for coffee, maybe a local joint — but most importantly: not to cross the picket line.
And some drivers did turn around and drive away. By happenstance, Oviedo Mayor Megan Sladek also stumbled upon the protest, and stayed to listen to workers explain what was going on.
“I love that there's free speech happening right here in Oviedo. Like, that’s what we’re into,” Sladek told Orlando Weekly. “I'm surprised to see how many people have come out to encourage people to explore alternative [coffee] options.”
Sladek kindly, but firmly, rejected a request by a community supporter for the city to put out an official statement in support of the striking workers, explaining that the city generally tries to stay out of private companies’ affairs.
Today’s national strike, which also shuttered at least one store in Virginia, is a show of solidarity with a flagstone action outside of the company’s headquarters today in Seattle, the coffee giant's birthplace.
Workers want company leadership to know that their fight for the right to organize, free of fear and intimidation from their employer, will continue. And that they won’t be deterred by union-busting behaviors from the Starbucks Corporation, which has been hit with at least 80 complaints from the National Labor Relations Board, encompassing over 1,000 alleged violations of federal labor law, according to Bloomberg.
The Starbucks Corporation has been accused of illegally firing pro-union workers, cutting workers’ hours and calling the cops on workers on the picket line, among other things.
A week from today, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz — who abruptly resigned Monday — is set to testify in front of a U.S. Congressional Senate committee, chaired by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), to address allegations of the coffee giant’s union-busting.
Schultz last year, on his first day on the job as interim CEO, said U.S. companies “are being assaulted, in many ways, by the threat of unionization.”
Schultz has a long history of opposing unionization efforts at Starbucks.
The Starbucks Corporation, however, which has nonetheless been clear on its anti-union position from the start, denies any unlawful behavior.
Sibayan, one of the Starbucks workers in Oviedo, said he hopes that things will change soon, and that they can inspire other workers — not just fellow Starbucks employees, or “partners” as they’re called — to join together and fight for a voice on the job as a union.
Blastic emphasized that union-busting doesn’t just hurt the workers. It’s something customers should care about as well. “When we get our hours cut and we’re working with the skeleton crews, they're stuck with longer lines,” he said.
And they know that’s frustrating. “We don't want that for them. We are trying our best and we're just not staffed properly,” added Thompson.
Elsewhere, workers on the picket lines demonstrated an enormous amount of creativity, with signs reading, "Bust a nut, not a union," and one using a reference to Mean Girls to call out former CEO Schultz for his anti-union comments.
“We are the heart and soul of Starbucks,” Sarah Pappin, a Starbucks worker in Seattle and member of Starbucks Workers United, said in a prepared statement. “Instead of celebrating the law-breaking former CEO hell-bent on silencing us, Starbucks should respect our right to organize and meet us at the bargaining table. We are Starbucks, and we deserve better."
Starbucks workers aways have the wildest signs. pic.twitter.com/0BT6YbO4GF— Matt Bernico (@Matt_Bernico) March 22, 2023