St. Louis' unionized Starbucks workers join national ‘Red Cup Rebellion’ strike
Workers from all eight unionized Starbucks stores in the St. Louis region on Thursday morning joined thousands of the chain's employees across the nation in a “Red Cup Rebellion” strike.
A couple of dozen workers from the Starbucks Workers United union gathered outside a store on Grand Boulevard in Tower Grove, calling for a fair contract and requesting that the coffee giant stop refusing to bargain. It was part of a national one-day strike called the “Red Cup Rebellion,” which comes on Red Cup Day — one of the busiest customer traffic days of the year, when free, reusable cups are handed out.
On promotional days like this, Starbucks union members said orders pile up with lines out the door, leaving an already short staff of workers to deal with angry customers who have had to wait longer than usual for their orders.
Griffith Moore, a barista and barista trainer at the Starbucks location on South Lindbergh Boulevard in Ladue, said the staffing issue has become ridiculous.
“We have really great customers, and we have customers who are like ‘hey, I’ve been here for 30 minutes and I’m going to be late for work.’ It’s really hard not to sympathize with them in those situations because we can’t make it work any faster, and we don’t have the people to do anything about it,” Moore said Thursday.
Earlier this fall, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board over the company’s refusal to bargain around promotional days. On Thursday, workers in St. Louis called for Starbucks to turn off mobile ordering in the future on such days, which company executives are scheduling with increasing frequency, members said.
Workers marched outside the Starbucks in Tower Grove while chanting “Fighting for a contract until we get it” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” They also held signs with messages to corporate leaders that read, “All I want for Christmas is a contract” and “No contract, no coffee.”
Several drivers honked in solidarity while driving by.
Unionized workers in St. Louis accused company leaders of cutting work hours and health care benefits for some employees without discussing it with the union first. Starbucks workers must work a minimum number of hours in order to maintain health benefits.
Pranay Peddinti, a barista at the location on Page Service Drive in Maryland Heights, said company managers gave excuses on the short-staffing issue.
“Their excuse is that they’re trying to make money back from all the COVID pay,” Peddinti said. “I had to pick up shifts from five different stores, driving around wasting gas trying to get my bills paid.”
He said one of his coworkers who has a life-threatening condition lost his health benefits after his hours were suddenly cut over the summer.
“What they’re doing is inhumane,” Peddinti said.
According to the National Labor Relations Act, employers are required to bargain over changes that impact wages, hours, working conditions and other mandatory subjects of bargaining. The National Labor Relations Board is currently prosecuting Starbucks in a trial in Seattle over its refusal to bargain. Administrative law judges have found the coffee giant has broken the law more than 270 times.
Thousands of Starbucks workers in the past two years have gained numerous union wins at more than 360 stores nationwide, sparking a movement of workers across the country to join unions.
But the fight for fair wages, staffing and health benefits is exhausting, said Lee Webb, a barista at a Starbucks in Richmond Heights.
“It’s become disheartening to have gone in with such high hopes, with such great expectations for a corporation that has marketed itself as progressive, only to be beaten down year after year by the insane workload, with no way to make it better, other than to walk out and organize,” Webb said.
Instead of bargaining with workers, the union said, Starbucks has opted to stall. The company offered workers at nonunion stores benefits like credit card tipping, which unionized workers have called for since the beginning of the campaign.
The company recently announced 3% raises to nonunion workers, a move union workers called “tone deaf.”
In a statement published on the company's website on Nov. 3, Starbucks leaders defended their right to offer such wage increases to nonunion workers.
“We strongly maintain that, by the NLRB’s own standards, an employer may not unilaterally make changes to the terms or conditions of employment for unionizing or newly unionized employees,” the statement reads. “... We also maintain that it is lawful to grant such wage increases and benefit enhancements to partners in all other stores.”
Regarding accusations that they are stalling the bargaining process, corporate leaders also said on Nov. 3 that Workers United hasn’t confirmed any store bargaining sessions proposed by the company in more than four months.
“Rather than continuing to prolong and flood the NLRB process, Workers United should focus on moving the collective bargaining process forward to secure first contracts for partners they represent,” the statement reads.
Starbucks union members at the location on Page Service Drive in Maryland Heights said unbeknownst to them, the company scheduled a bargaining session with union reps for Wednesday, but corporate leaders never showed. Peddinti said it was a “slap in the face.”
“We weren’t told about it, our union representative here didn’t know about it, the manager and district manager didn’t know about it,” Peddinti said. “It was just put on the website as a marketing tool to say ‘Hey, we’re bargaining,’ but no one came to the store. There were no lawyers, no contract negotiations.”
In St. Louis there are roughly 160 unionized Starbucks workers across the eight unionized stores in the region. The Starbucks location on South Lindbergh Boulevard in Ladue was the first store to officially certify a union in June 2022.
From Edwardsville to O’Fallon, Missouri, about 16% of Starbucks stores in the St. Louis region have unionized.