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St. Louis Starbucks workers join national strike over removal of Pride decorations

People hold signs advocating for unionized Starbucks workers in St. Louis.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
Unionized Starbucks workers and their supporters gather at the location on Kingshighway near Chippewa for a strike on Monday. The company is facing a national strike over allegations it's not allowed stores to decorate for Pride month.

Starbucks workers at four unionized stores in the St. Louis region walked off the job Monday, joining a nationwide strike at the coffee chain over the company not allowing dozens of stores to decorate for Pride month.

Workers at some local stores say they’ve been pushed to remove decorations celebrating gay pride.

“To come into a job every day that is supposed to have your back and they tell you to take down your Pride decorations, it’s kind of like a slap in the face,” said Jasper Berry, a barista at a Starbucks at Hampton and Wise in St. Louis.

They said they had to take down Pride decorations a few weeks ago, despite the majority of employees being part of the LGBTQ+ community.

This development troubles Berry, especially since Starbucks was one of the first places they felt they could comfortably and safely explore their gender identity, they said.

“It’s really scary because Starbucks was the first place that I thought was a safe space for me to be able to grow and figure out who I was,” Berry said.

The targeting of Pride displays makes other unionized Starbucks workers nervous, including Alexia Fisher, a barista trainer at the location at Kingshighway and Chippewa. She said she and her colleagues were asked to move a Pride flag that was prominently hung from the light fixtures.

“Randomly, one day they said it was hitting customers in the head, which you’d have to be seven feet tall almost to hit it,” Fischer said. “The fact that this is happening has made us all a little bit uneasy, especially for a company that puts out this progressive front.”

It’s a shared sentiment among Starbucks employees who demonstrated on Monday.

“They market themselves as like a haven for queer people, queer people come to this job because maybe they can get health benefits,” said Jonathon Gamache, who works at a west St. Louis County Starbucks. “Now we’re seeing those benefits have been threatened for union partners.”

In a statement, a Starbucks spokesperson denied the company has ever taken away or threatened to take away benefits available to employees. The spokesperson said that the company offers unwavering support for LGBTQ employees and that all employees have access to gender-affirming care, whether they’re unionized or not.

But Berry said their store no longer feels like the safe space it once did.

“I’m thankful for Starbucks for helping me discover who I am and discover a great group of people,” they said. “With all the pushback that we’re getting, it doesn’t feel like a safe space to even identify that I’m trans anymore.”

Local organizers also used Monday’s strike to call for good faith contract negotiations that would guarantee better pay, health care coverage and sick and vacation time.

“We don’t want what happens at our job to be up to Starbucks, because we’ve seen what they do with that power,” said Gamache. “We’ve seen how they abuse that, we’ve seen how they abuse us.”

Gamache’s west St. Louis County Starbucks voted to unionize a little more than a year ago. In that time, the store has had seven managers and a slew of practices he considers retaliatory over the store’s workers' decision to unionize, Gamache said.

“None of us wear our union T-shirts at work. I wore my union T-shirt for every shift for two months and they started writing all of us up,” he said. “They’ve outright fired two people at our store that were vocally pro-union.”

Others, like part-time or seasonal employees, didn’t receive schedules or were told their availability didn’t work, Gamache said.

Alex Barge at a Starbucks Workers United strike on June 26, 2023
Cam Grabau
Alex Barge participates in a Starbucks Workers United strike on June 26, 2023.

Eric Moore, the area director for Starbucks Workers United, said the company has had one of the most aggressive anti-union campaigns he’s experienced. As the chief negotiator for the union’s locations in St. Louis and Kansas City, Moore said he’s had close to 20 bargaining sessions with Starbucks attorneys that lasted at most five minutes each.

“We’ve just never seen a corporation so dug in, or one individual in Howard Schultz who just refuses to give these workers a voice and concede any power,” he said. “All they want is a fair contract and to be treated like decent human beings at work.”

A spokesperson for Starbucks disputes this as well, saying that the company is committed to good faith negotiations of a first contract for individual stores and that it’s been the Starbucks Workers Union that has been unresponsive to the bargaining process.

Alex Barge, a barista at the Lindbergh and Clayton store in Ladue, joined "St. Louis on the Air" on June 27, 2023 to share why she joined the strike and what’s changed since her store joined Starbucks Workers United last year. Listen to the conversation on Apple PodcastSpotifyGoogle Podcast or Stitcher or by clicking the play button below.

Why employees at a St. Louis region Starbucks participated in 7 strikes in the last year

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.