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San Antonio workers join national strike of Starbucks stores to demand a fair contract

Workers went on strike at the Starbucks coffee shop St. Mary's and East Houston Street.
Josh Peck
/
Texas Public Radio
Workers and supporters picketing the St. Mary's and East Houston St. Starbucks for Red Cup Rebellion.

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Unionized workers at the San Antonio Starbucks store on the corner of St. Mary’s and East Houston Street went on strike on Thursday as part of a nationally coordinated action taken by more than 100 unionized Starbucks stores.

The action is being called “Red Cup Rebellion” by Starbucks Workers United, which represents thousands of unionized workers at hundreds of stores. It took place on Starbucks’ annual “Red Cup Day,” when customers receive a free red, reusable coffee cup with certain purchases. This year, unionized workers handed out their own red cups.

Seiya Wayment — who identifies with the pronoun "they" — is a shift supervisor and the lead organizer at the St. Mary’s and East Houston store. They said their co-workers are striking because Starbucks is holding up contract negotiations in bad faith.

“Starbucks has been refusing to bargain with our union on a national level and on a store basis,” Wayment said. “They haven't even set bargaining dates or responded to our information requests since we unionized in June.”

In a statement, a representative from Starbucks denied the accusation that Starbucks was stalling contract talks, pointing to more than 50 bargaining sessions it has held with stores, and argued the company was bargaining in good faith.

“We remain committed to all partners and will continue to work together, side-by-side, to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone,” the statement said. “In those stores where partners have elected union-representation, we have been willing and continue to urge the union to meet us at the bargaining table to move the process forward in good faith.”

A sign posted on a tent outside the St. Mary's and East Houston Street Starbucks where workers went on strike on Thursday. It reads:
"Starbucks Corporate: Stop Unfair Labor Practices! Respect Our Union. Starbucks Workers United."
Josh Peck
/
Texas Public Radio
A sign posted outside the St. Mary's and East Houston St. Starbucks where workers went on strike on Thursday.

Wayment’s downtown store is one of five unionized Starbucks stores in Bexar County, with two more in New Braunfels and Bulverde. They’re all part of a national movement to organize Starbucks stores that began with a Buffalo, New York, store in mid-2021.

Wayment said one of the biggest issues at their stores is safety. They said when workers told management that furniture needed to be secured to the ground because it had been thrown at employees in the past, it was pushed to the side.

“Being downtown, we have safety issues, especially with the times we are open,” they said. “And we brought it up as an issue multiple times because people have thrown furniture before, and then they’re like ‘Oh, eventually it’ll change.’ Months and months go by, I get hit with a table, no one ever does anything about it.”

As Wayment spoke about the issues their store and other unionized stores across the country are facing, cars honked their horns and drivers raised their closed fists out of their windows as they passed by in support of the striking workers. Workers handed out flyers to passersby and explained why they were on strike.

Wayment said some of their store managers had gone inside and were trying to open the store on their own. Wayment said the managers told workers they had the right to strike, but that they were just doing what they were being told by the corporate level of Starbucks.

“They basically tried to be like, ‘Hey, we know you have the right to do what you’re doing, but we’ve been told that we have to, by corporate,’ acting like they don’t have a choice in respecting the picket line, although they clearly do — they’re choosing not to respect it.”

The red cup being handed out by striking workers instead of the red cup Starbucks stores typically give out on Red Cup Day. The red plastic cup has an image of Grinch's hand dangling an ornament that has the logo of Starbucks Workers United in the center and "Starbucks Workers United" in a circle around it.
Josh Peck
/
Texas Public Radio
The red cup striking workers are handing out instead of the cups Starbucks usually gives out on Red Cup Day.

The doors of the store were locked and TPR was unable to contact the managers by phone.

Wayment amusedly remarked on how managers seemed unable to do the job workers are tasked with every day, opening the store.

“They’re trying to open the store, which is hilarious because they’ve been in there for a long time and they’re still not open,” Wayment said. “And they’re always saying, ‘Oh you should be able to open the store in 30 minutes with only two people,’ and I don’t even know how long they’ve been in there with four of them and they’re still not open.”

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found Starbucks in violation of labor law numerous times since the national organizing effort began — for surveilling workers engaged in protected labor activity, firing or otherwise disciplining workers for protected labor activity, and threatening workers considering unionization by saying they would lose benefits if they joined the union.

In October, the NLRB found that multiple Starbucks stores in Texas had conducted some of these labor violations, including an unlawful firing of San Antonio worker Atticus Drummond.

Starbucks filed a flurry of labor law complaints with the NLRB against Starbucks Workers United in late October for what the company says are unlawful recordings of bargaining sessions by union members.

A Starbucks United Flyer titled "Red Cup Rebellion." It explains why baristas are on strike around the country and offers QR codes for supporters to sign the No Contract, No Coffee Pledge and contribute to the national Solidarity Fund.
Josh Peck
/
Texas Public Radio
A Starbucks United Flyer explaining the Red Cup Rebellion and ways to support the union that was handed out at the strike.

Wayment responded to the common complaint that comes up when any workers go on strike — that strikes are an inconvenience for would-be customers.

“It's a fight that we all have to have together,” Wayment said. “A lot of people say, like, ‘Oh, why don't you get a different job’ or whatever. But someone has to do the job and it's important for everyone to be able to make a living wage.”

They also said many customers have voiced support for the workers during the strike on Thursday.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the community,” Wayment said. “A lot of our regular customers are workers in nearby businesses and they’re all really supportive of us.”

Jeff Norris, a truck driver in the film industry and a member of the Teamsters, was picketing alongside Starbucks workers on Thursday. He explained why he chose to support them.

“I came out here to support the Starbucks workers in my city that are trying to get representation, trying to get the company to sit down and negotiate a fair deal,” he said. “So I’m here today as a Teamster to support my brothers and sisters for the Starbucks Workers United. It’s a nationwide thing right now, but San Antonio is a union city.”

Tom Cummins, the president of the San Antonio AFL-CIO and the San Antonio chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said the city’s Central Labor Council supported the striking workers as well.

“We support the Starbucks workers, both here and nationally,” Cummins said.

He also said some members of the Central Labor Council will likely picket with workers at the St. Mary’s and East Houston St. store, and will join Starbucks workers in future coordinated actions.

Wayment said other union members had come to the picket line to drop off food and water, and that it meant a lot not to feel alone as they strike.

Starbucks Workers United released a map of all the stores participating in the strike across the country — there are three in Texas, one each in San Antonio, Austin, and Houston. That’s despite there being at least 13 unionized stores in the state, and five in Bexar County alone.

CJ Craig, a union organizer at the Starbucks store on Vance Jackson and Loop 410 whose store is not striking, said there were lots of reasons some stores chose not to strike, but didn’t offer specifics.

“It wouldn’t be fair for me to give a broad statement about why not all stores went on strike as each store’s bargaining unit is diverse and unique and the factors are too varied to pin down specific reasons why some stores didn’t organize a strike,” Craig said.

In order to organize a strike, local union members must vote. Some stores may have voted not to strike, but if workers weren’t able to gather in time to decide, that might also explain the lack of broad involvement in the Red Cup Rebellion in Texas. It is not clear which stores in Texas voted against the strike or workers’ reasons for voting against a strike if they did.

At Wayment’s store, they said the decision was unanimous.

“Our store has been unanimous from the beginning, like our vote was unanimous for a union, so we’re pretty strongly wanting our contract and willing to push for it,” they said.

Among the flyers being handed out by picketing workers was a card for the San Antonio Justice Charter, a proposed city charter amendment that would codify cite-and-release, decriminalize marijuana possession and abortions, and appoint a city Justice Director. It’s a sign of the broad collaboration between organizers who work on labor and police reform issues.

When workers strike, they lose out on pay. Because of that, many unions form strike funds or solidarity funds to support workers as they push for contracts. Wayment said supporters of the union effort could donate to Starbucks Workers United’s national Solidarity Fund or drop by the store during coordinated activities like Thursday’s strike and give money in person.

Wayment also encouraged supporters to sign the “No Contract, No Coffee! Pledge” to receive alerts and information about local coordinated actions.

As workers picketed with signs demanding increased staffing and a contract, they chanted for everyone to hear.

“The workers, united, will never be divided!”

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Josh Peck is the Technology & Entrepreneurship Reporter for Texas Public Radio.