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The workers behind Starbucks and Amazon strikes in St. Louis

Starbucks workers picket outside the location at Hampton and Wise avenues on November 17.
Rosalind Early
Starbucks workers picket outside the location at Hampton and Wise avenues on Nov. 17.

On Nov. 17, workers in three St. Louis-area Starbucks stores walked outside to join the picket line. The demonstration came as part of a national strike involving more than a thousand employees, taking place on the same day that the company is known to hand out limited-edition red cups.

It wasn’t the only St. Louis-area protest staged with notable timing. Less than a week after the “Red cup rebellion” at Starbucks, dozens of workers at an Amazon warehouse in St. Louis joined a protest against their employer, calling for an end to grueling conditions and higher pay.

"We were walking out for safer working conditions and higher pay," Jennifer Crane, a worker at the warehouse, told St. Louis on the Air. "They can afford to give us a rate of work that doesn't result in injury."

Crane said her 10-hour workdays involve strict, hourly quotas for packaging online orders. She estimates she processes about 3,000 packages a week, a rate that leaves her exhausted. Her coworkers include two of her adult sons.

“I am sitting here with a brace on my arm because I did get injured because of the rate of work,” she said. “And they sent me back to work while it's still injured, telling me I will be OK.”

While the Amazon warehouse workers are organizing, they aren’t exploring a union at this time, Crane said. Meanwhile, at Starbucks, workers at five locations voted to unionize this year.

There has also been a backlash. Bradley Rohlf, a former shift supervisor at Starbucks in Ladue, was fired in October, an act he claims was retaliation for his union organizing.

“I'm still very connected to my coworkers in the store,” Rohlf said Wednesday. “The situations on the ground continue to get worse and worse. But the only reason that our store is still able to even open and operate in this limited capacity at all is because there are people that are dedicated to winning a contract for dignified work.”

To hear more from Jennifer Crane and Bradley Rohlf, as well as remarks from Starbucks barista Spencer Blackmon, you can listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation about worker organizing on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Workers unite in St. Louis strikes at Amazon and Starbucks

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."