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Local Starbucks workers join national 3-day strike over alleged unfair labor practices

Starbucks workers on strike outside their store, many of them holding signs calling for the company to respect unions and stop unfair labor practices.
Josh Peck
/
Texas Public Radio
Starbucks workers on strike outside of their store on East Houston and St. Mary's.

Starbucks workers downtown are participating in a 3-day nationwide unfair labor practice strike action involving around 100 stores. The strike is in part a response to what workers say is a systematic effort by the coffee giant to shut down unionized stores in light of the growing movement.

The 3-day strike comes a month after the same downtown workers joined a national one-day strike, dubbed “Red Cup Rebellion,” and a week after Starbucks workers from San Antonio and Austin rallied at Labor Plaza with the support of other unions and city council members.

There are now over 270 unionized stores and thousands of unionized Starbucks workers, up from none a year ago. There are six union stores in the San Antonio area alone.

Seiya Wayment was among the organizers at the East Houston and St. Mary’s Starbucks store. Wayment, who uses they/them pronouns, stood outside of their store on Friday holding a sign that read “Bargain Don’t Bully - ULP Strike - Respect Unions Now.” They said Starbucks’ union-busting efforts had only intensified since their coworkers went on strike in November.

A sign taped to a table striking workers are using outside of their store. It reads "baristas ON STRIKE! An injury to one is an injury to all! STOP closing union stores!"
Josh Peck
/
Texas Public Radio
Signs around the table striking workers are using in front of their store on Friday.

“Before, we were demanding better staffing and Starbucks to bargain with us, and they’ve kind of doubled down on union-busting rather than working with us at all, so we’re doubling down on striking,” they said.

Wayment explained that in discussions with workers at union stores that were closed down, management used unionized workers’ calls for more safety and security measures as a pretext to shut them down — and that managers at their store have attempted to do the same.

“What management would tell them, and us, is ‘oh if you want your safety and security concerns addressed, what you have to do is file incident reports about every single thing that happens, even if it’s not a big deal, just write a million incident reports,’” Wayment said. “And then they used those as a reason to shut down stores.”

Wayment said safety has been one of the major concerns they and their coworkers have brought up repeatedly, especially given the store’s downtown location. Wayment is concerned their store could be next.

“They use the baristas’ concern for their own and their customers' safety to get them to give them evidence … and none of the baristas were like, ‘our store is too unsafe to be open,’ they just wanted some help addressing their concerns,” Wayment said.

Workers milling about on strike in front of the Starbucks on East Houston and St. Mary's. Several of them are holding strike signs.
Josh Peck
/
Texas Public Radio
Workers on strike outside of the store on St. Mary's and East Houston St. on Friday.

In a statement, a Starbucks representative denied that union stores were being targeted for closure, accused Starbucks Workers United — the national coalition that represents the workers — of spreading misleading claims, and said workers on strike could choose to return to work if they wanted.

“Partners who may choose to participate in any protest activities have the right to return to work at any time — joining the vast majority of our partners who have continued to work with us to deliver the Starbucks Experience for our customers and one another,” the statement read.

The statement also explained that the company trains and informs managers that partners are not to be disciplined for lawful union activity, and that unlawful retaliation for protected labor activity would not be tolerated.

Despite that claim, the company has been accused of hundreds of violations of labor law, and the National Labor Relations Board itself has alleged and found that the company has violated the law numerous times. The NLRB has accused the company of unlawfully surveilling workers, conducting retaliatory firings, and targeting union leaders for discipline. These allegations have been made against Starbucks in San Antonio too.

Wayment also said a lot had changed at their store since the first strike in November.

“Our store manager at the time we went on strike the first time actually went on a leave of absence; we have a temporary store manager now,” Wayment said. “Management’s been really out of communication with us … the scheduling’s gotten really, really bad. They haven’t been following our availabilities or our holiday requests off.”

One of the lead organizers at the first unionized Starbucks in the country in Buffalo, New York, claimed she was ousted by the company earlier this year after management refused to honor her scheduling requests after months of trying. Starbucks denied the accusation at the time, saying it needed to balance employees’ scheduling requests with business needs.

The empty Starbucks store on East Houston and St. Mary's that workers are striking in front of.
Josh Peck
/
Texas Public Radio
The empty Starbucks store on Friday morning that workers are striking in front of.

Wayment said management’s refusal to give days off during the holidays was completely unlike their experience working at Starbucks for the last 11 years.

“Out of all of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, I asked for literally one day off — I didn’t get it,” they said. “And that’s never happened to me ever — I’ve worked for the company for 11 years, I’ve never not been able to get one holiday I want off.”

Wayment said they’re not sure if management is trying to push workers out or if they just don’t want to deal with them and time off requests are one of the casualties of that decision.

They also explained what they wanted Starbucks to take away from the nationwide strike beginning on Friday.

“I really hope that Starbucks realizes that they need to actually negotiate with us, that as a whole we’re not scared of them shutting us down — that’s not what we’re worried about,” Wayment said. “We know we have each other, and we’re gonna keep pushing until we get them to the bargaining table.”

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