Thousands of workers at more than 200 U.S. Starbucks stores plan to walk off the job Thursday in what organizers are calling a “Red Cup Rebellion.” They say is the largest strike yet in the two-year-old effort to unionize the company’s stores.
Philly Workers United posted on social media Wednesday night that the baristas at the Penn Medicine store initiated the strike at other local unionized stores. A sign on the door says it is closed until Friday.
Thursday is “Red Cup Day,” when the coffee chain hands out free reusable holiday-themed cups to customers who order holiday drinks. The Workers United union chose Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day to stage the walkout since it’s usually one of the busiest days of the year.
The union said it was expecting more than 5,000 workers to take part in its “Red Cup Rebellion.” Around 30 stores also staged walkouts on Wednesday.
Thursday’s strike was the fifth major labor action by Starbucks workers since a store in Buffalo, New York, became the first to unionize in late 2021. Workers at 110 stores walked out last year on Red Cup Day; most recently, a strike in June protested reports that Starbucks had removed Pride displays from its stores.
But the strikes have had little impact on Starbucks’ sales. For its 2023 fiscal year, which ended Oct. 1, Starbucks reported its revenue rose 12%,to a record $36.0 billion.
Starbucks downplayed any potential impact of the strike Wednesday, saying it would occur at a “small subset” of the company’s 9,600 company-owned U.S. stores.
Starbucks released a statement to ABC News saying: “We are aware that Workers United has publicized a day of action at a small subset of our U.S. stores this week. We remain committed to working with all partners.”
At least 363 company-operated Starbucks stores in 41 states have voted to unionize since late 2021. The Starbucks effort was at the leading edge of a period of labor activism that has also seen strikes by Amazon workers, auto workers and Hollywood writers and actors. At least 457,000 workers have participated in 315 strikes in the U.S. just this year, according to Johnnie Kallas, a Ph.D. candidate and the project director of Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker.
Starbucks opposes the unionization effort and has yet to reach a labor agreement with any of the stores that have voted to unionize. The process has been contentious; regional offices with the National Labor Relations Board have issued 111 complaints against Starbucks for unfair labor practices, including refusal to bargain. Starbucks says Workers United is refusing to schedule bargaining sessions.
Starbucks noted that it has started bargaining with the Teamsters union, which organized a Starbucks store outside of Pittsburgh in June 2022. But the two sides have not reached a labor agreement. The Teamsters didn’t say Wednesday whether workers at the unionized store would also be striking.
Relations between Starbucks and Workers United have grown increasingly tense. Last month, Starbucks sued Workers United, saying a pro-Palestinian post on a union account damaged its reputation and demanding that the union stop using the name Starbucks Workers United. Workers United responded with its own lawsuit, saying Starbucks defamed the union by suggesting it supports terrorism and violence.
The Associated Press contributed to this post.