Why workers at a Lexington Starbucks joined last week’s national ‘Red Cup Day’ strike

Posted 11/20/23

A Lexington Starbucks was the only one in South Carolina to take part in a nationwide strike last week.

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Why workers at a Lexington Starbucks joined last week’s national ‘Red Cup Day’ strike


A Lexington Starbucks was the only one in South Carolina to take part in a nationwide strike last week.

“Starbucks workers are calling on customers and allies to stand in solidarity with them on Red Cup Day — the company’s biggest sales day of the year - and demand that Starbucks respect workers’ right to organize a union,” proclaims the local event page announcing the strike at the Saluda Pointe location at 105 Saluda Pointe Ct. 

“Join us on Nov. 16 for Red Cup Rebellion to make sure Starbucks hears worker demands loud and clear. We’ll meet outside of the Starbucks with banners, signs, and flyers to engage customers and passerby in support of Starbucks workers.”

Vijay Tripathi, the lead local organizer for the union Starbucks Workers United, told the Chronicle there were workers at more than 200 stores nationally that participated in the action, encompassing about 5,000 unionized workers.

He said that “partners at the store initiated a walkout-to-strike around 6:30 in the morning,” delivering a letter listing demands to the store manager before proceeding to walk out of the store.

“We all began making signs on the patio, then assembled on the sidewalk for better visibility.  Much to my surprise, customers were very receptive and supportive of us,” Tripathi said. “Energy was good on the picket line, and community supporters joined us just after lunchtime.”

Pictures of the strike, which closed the location for the day, show workers holding signs with messages such as “Bitter coffee, bitter partners," "Do better Starbucks!!!" and "Short staffed, short changed, wonder why we unionized."

Tripathi detailed national grievances that the union is continuing to pursue along with local issues on the part of the Saluda Pointe workers.

“The unfair labor practice cited in this strike was the company’s breach of status quo regarding proper staffing during promotional days prior to petitioning,” Tripathi said, referring to the company’s approach to staffing for the Red Cup Day, when customers could get a free reusable holiday cup with the purchase of some drinks.

“In addition, Saluda Pointe’s chief grievances were inconsistent scheduling, illegal intimidation by management, and Starbucks ignoring their complaints. After Starbucks installed a new store manager to bust the union, a single mother partner was told to demote from shift lead because her hour availability (which was the same for over four years) ‘no longer met the needs of the business.’”

National Labor Relations Board records show that workers at the Saluda Pointe shop have filed allegations against their employer at least once this year, claiming coercive rules and changes in terms and conditions of employment.

With its labor issues continuing two years after the first location voted to unionize, Starbucks has continued to be found to have violated labor law in its company-wide efforts to keep unions from forming.

In responding to the nationwide Red Cup Rebellion protests, the company emphasized the steps it says it’s taking in collective bargaining with union-represented stores.

“Each year, our partners and our customers look forward to Red Cup Day as an opportunity to uplift the holiday season while bringing people together over hand-crafted coffee,” Starbucks said in a statement. “Despite demonstrations at fewer than 150 stores represented by Workers United, nearly all of those stores were supported with incremental staffing and open today sharing in moments of connection and joy with our customers.

“Those participating in protests and other demonstration activities are calling on Starbucks to ‘come back to the bargaining table’ so partners have a ‘voice in their scheduling, workplace pay [and] staffing.’ Unfortunately, the union’s rhetoric misses the mark. Despite repeated weekly efforts to schedule bargaining sessions for stores represented by Workers United, their representatives haven’t shown up or agreed to meet to progress negotiations for any store in more than five months.”

On its collective bargaining site, which lists the company’s position on where talks are with workers at individual stores, Starbucks says “company-proposed date(s) for in-person bargaining session not confirmed by union” at the Saluda Pointe location.

Tripathi emphasized the momentum the union has seen the past two years, citing the certification of nearly 400 stores in 41 states and spoke to impacts beyond Starbucks workers.

“Corporate greed and union busting most impacts the customer,” he said. “A $7+ dollar Venti Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino (where a subset of customers have to put in 15-30 minutes of work to pay for) is taking longer to order and is less consistent. Understaffing, mis-prioritization of knowledge during training, and disposability of the most skilled partners is contributing to longer wait times, less consistent drinks, and a deviation from Starbucks’ Third Place.”

The “Third Place” is a sociological concept the company has emphasized as its shops’ intended vibe — “a place beyond home and work where people could gather, relax and talk.”

“Starbucks has a choice to end this war, and it starts with letting go of their greed and hoarding of wealth,” Tripathi said, “and giving it back to the people that make them their money; their customers, shareholders, and most importantly, their ‘partners.’”

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