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Seizing the beans of production!

Reports from Starbucks’ Red Cup Rebellion

Last Thursday, on November 17, more than two thousand employees at over one hundred Starbucks stores around the country engaged in a one-day strike to demand increased staffing and to pressure the company over its refusal to bargain with their union, Starbucks Workers United. The action, which organizers dubbed the “Red Cup Rebellion,” was timed to coincide with one of Starbucks’ busiest days of the year, in which the company gives away free reusable cups with its holiday drink purchases and stores are jam-packed with customers. The strike follows an unprecedented wave of successful unionization efforts for the first time in Starbucks’ history, as well as union-busting tactics by the company such as shutting down recently-unionized stores and firing workers in retaliation for union activity. Tempest members joined the picket lines in solidarity with the day of action. Below are reports from around the country, as well as ways to continue to support Starbucks workers. Dana Cloud, Elizabeth Lalasz, and Haley Pessin contributed to this report.

Philadelphia, PA
Report by Joel Sronce

On a cold, windy Thursday in Philly, Starbucks workers formed picket lines outside of four stores to join their coworkers across the country in the Red Cup Rebellion. Withholding their labor succeeded in completely shutting down the stores at 34th & Walnut Street and 20th & Market Street. Elsewhere, rallying workers at 22nd & South encouraged anyone picking up a mobile order to not cross the picket line and instead to take a leaflet on how to get a refund. (Word on the street is that the customer service line had over half an hour wait time for most of the day!) As this tweet shows, many Philadelphians were proud to respect the picket line.

Out on the pickets were two workers who agreed to share their experiences as part of the incredible labor movement that Starbucks partners have created over the past twelve months. Sarah has been working at the 20th & Market Street store for almost four years; yet in a city with a soaring cost of living, she’s currently making just $15.50 an hour as a barista and barista-trainer. Like so many of her coworkers, she struggles for better working conditions, staffing, scheduling and pay. Similar to the experience of food-service workers across the country, her store has been so constantly understaffed that some of her coworkers have had to get food stamps or apply for disability in order to be able to afford their rent, insurance, bills, and debt payments. However, years of such conditions have not turned Sarah away from the struggle. Quite the opposite. Since May, she has been her store’s representative on the NCAT (the National Contract Action Team), which organizes national direct actions, including strikes.

Across the Schuylkill River in West Philly, Sil has been working at the 34th & Walnut Street Starbucks for several months, making $15 an hour. Facing similar working conditions as Sarah, Sil knows well what she’s up against.

“Winning our union was only half the fight; we still have to bargain for a contract to get the things we need, and if we don’t come to an agreement after a year, the company can decertify our union,” she explained. “It’s clear that Starbucks is trying to run out the clock, so we have to increase the pressure! Thankfully, due to our incredible partners, we were able to prevent the store from opening at all, and had a really amazing and inspiring day on the picket line.”

Starbucks workers hold picket signs and walk in a circle on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the Starbucks on 20th and Market Street.
Picket line at the 20th & Market Street Starbucks in Philadelphia. Photo by Joel Sronce.

Neither Sarah nor Sil could overemphasize the solidarity that they share with their fellow Starbucks workers across the country, almost all of whom they will never know. Nationwide, as many as 111 stores were on strike on Thursday – a remarkable accomplishment on its own – and both of these Philly workers felt an immense sense of community.

“We feel incredibly connected with our other striking and unionized stores,” Sil told me. “In fact, I think having that solidarity across the country really helped people feel confident enough to come out to picket. So much of our strength as a movement comes from being able to coordinate and compare notes nationally.”

And in Philly, it’s not only their fellow Starbucks partners from whom Sarah and Sil find solidarity. Across the city, it seems as commonplace as an Eagles jersey. All four of the picket lines were supported by local activist groups and by members of other unions, joining in chants, honking, or even bringing supplies, including the Teamsters’ famous Scabby the Rat.

“Solidarity with our community has been incredible,” Sil said. “We were getting constant honks of support from passing sanitation workers, USPS drivers, and Philly locals. A construction worker working across the street came by to tell us, ‘I always say, you can’t just be union for yourself, you have to be union for everyone.’”

As Sil went on to explain, the solidarity is working.

“Already we’ve seen material gains to non-union stores, as credit card tips–one of our first demands as a campaign–were rolled out today,” she said. “When we win our contract, it will greatly improve the lives and situations of unionized Starbucks partners, bringing with it higher base pay, reimbursement for non-slip shoes, and processes for addressing grievances in the workplace, among other things. But even before that, our campaign will also continue to win gains for non-union stores as Starbucks relinquishes more and more crumbs to discourage the growth of the movement, like the tips today and the more lenient dress code a few months ago. We’re going to keep pushing until we get what we need, and lift everyone else up with us!”

Yet despite the solidarity they’ve already received, and despite the momentum from all their organizing and most recently from the Red Cup Rebellion, there is a long road ahead. Both workers have messages to the greater community, from whom more and more support will be required.

“Don’t cross any picket lines you may see,” Sarah said. “Express support on social media and in stores, put pressure on Starbucks to bargain with us in good faith and to stop their union busting, and donate to the solidarity fund (or just leave a tip).”

Sil agrees. “Find out which stores in your area are unionized and go tell the workers you have their back!” she said. “Go into non-unionized stores and tell them they deserve to have control over their workplace. These are conversations we all need to be having every day.”

(To further support unionizing Starbucks (and other) workers in Philly, follow Philadelphia Joint Board Workers United on social media, including @phillyworkersunited on Instagram.)

A hand-drawn sign taped to the glass window of a Starbucks store, written in the same green as the Starbucks logo, reads, “NOW BREWING SOLIDARITY.” Above the word “SOLIDARITY” is a drawing of a steaming cup of coffee with a green solidarity fist.
Photo by Joel Sronce.

Brooklyn, NY
Report by Natalia Tylim

Here is a short interview with a striking Caesars Bay Starbucks worker:

All the workers at the Caesars Bay Starbucks in South Brooklyn either struck or called in sick for the day of action on Red Cup Day. Their shop has regularly had to close for days here and there due to short staffing and ongoing COVID-19 infections. Yet, when management found out there was a strike the morning of November 17, they scrambled to find partners from other stores in the city to make sure the store was not shut down. Scabs were able to get the shop open at 8 a.m., and the store opened 3 1/2 hours late.

Workers from the store picketed outside, joined by a few visitors in solidarity from DSA, Professional Staff Congress-CUNY (PSC), Communication Workers of America (CWA), 1199 SEIU, and others. At the picket line, we tried to convince patrons to go elsewhere for the day and to honor the strike. Most of the regular customers at the shop have not been supportive of the unionization efforts, and did not think twice about passing the baristas who serve them everyday on their way into the Starbucks. Not everyone who saw the picket line went in, though, and there were some very heartwarming moments of people turning around to go elsewhere for their coffee. A Trader Joe’s worker involved in unionizing efforts at their shop, who was coming for the Starbucks red cup, stayed outside to exchange stories about corporate hypocrisy with a coffee from the strike table and a plastic Starbucks Workers United red cup instead. A delivery app worker had no choice but to go in to grab the delivery, but came out after to hear from the workers and ask about unions. Other potential customers went across the parking lot to the Starbucks inside Target instead.

The shop closed early at 4 p.m. Workers at Caesars Bay say that if you live in the neighborhood, you should come by, leave a tip, and let the workers know you support them.

Here is a report  from twitter:

Here is a second twitter report:


Photo by Natalia Tylim.
Photo by Natalia Tylim.
Photo by Natalia Tylim.


Queens, NY
Report by Lee Wengraf

I went by two picket lines in Queens, NY this morning. Both had picket lines of about a dozen people. At one store, about half of the morning staff didn’t go in and there seemed to be a logjam of customers. Picketers were able to turn some people away, including two transit workers who wouldn’t cross. Most people on the picket line were workers, plus a few members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). They cited their main demand as getting management back to the table. The morning shift at the other store all stayed out so the store was completely closed.

Five Starbucks workers pose for the camera wearing black hats with red Starbucks Workers United logo. Two workers hold signs: one reads, “We’re on Strike! Red Cup Slay” with the same union logo and the silhouette of Santa’s sleigh being led by reindeer; the second reads, “HONK FOR WORKERS’ RIGHTS.”
Photo by Lee Wengraf.

New York, NY
Report by Sam Farber

I went to the picket line at the very big Starbucks Roastery in Chelsea (Ninth Avenue and 15th street). [This location has had several other work stoppages since October over health and safety concerns, including mold and bed bugs found in the store.] Some fifteen people were picketing, but I did not recognize a single face from previous actions. This picket line was more militant and even somewhat aggressive in trying to convince people not to go inside the store. We had moderate success in that effort with perhaps 10 percent of the customers not going in. Jumaane Williams, New York Public Advocate, dropped by and stayed for a few minutes, gave a brief speech of support, and left. Overall, there was a decent turnout and activity in spite of the cold and windy weather.

Chicago, IL
Report by Dennis Kosuth

One of the two stores on strike in Chicago had a significant amount of community support for the four or five workers out on the line on strike. They were running the store with two managers and one scab. Cars were driving through and a few walk-ins would stop and talk.

This is the third time the workers at this store have been on strike, so they’ve got it down. They are all radicals, and one striker asked if I was a socialist. I said yes, and when I asked if she was as well, she said, “I’m more to the left than that.” She moved to Chicago from the suburbs because she wanted to be in the city with social justice minded people.

DSA brought the biggest contingent out to support, including a member who is running for City Council.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) sent an email to all its members yesterday evening to support and donate to the strikers, and I saw other CTU activists out on the line via social media as well.

I stopped by the picket line on my way to a CTU meeting and the workers were wrapping things up at a second store, saying that management didn’t try and even open.

It was noteworthy how the activists I met were very young and new to activism, especially labor unions. A leader I spoke with at the Armitage store had started working in January 2022, was recruited to the union this summer, and a few months later had been put in charge of organizing the strike.

They are building it all from the bottom up, a much bigger challenge than stepping into an established union. They are doing this with coworkers and as far as I can tell, not a lot of hand-holding by full time union staff.

Tempest member Kirstin Roberts and I spoke that morning, and she mentioned that regardless of whether the strike significantly impacted the profits of Starbucks, the fact they went out across the country toward winning a union contract is an important lesson to workers across the country: Our power is only derived from our collective action.

A worker with straight red dyed hair in a red puffer jacket holds a picket sign that reads, “FULL STAFFING NOW RED CUP REBELLION.”Link:
Photo by Sarah-Ji Rhee.
A worker with streaked hair and bangs wearing a leopard print jacket holds a sign high above their head that reads, “FULL STAFFING NOW.”
Photo by Sarah-Ji Rhee.
A pair of hands holds a plastic red cup emblazoned with a cartoon hand holding a Christmas ornament that features the Starbucks Workers United union logo.
The Starbucks Workers United version of Starbucks’ Red Cup.  Photo by Sarah-Ji Rhee.
A supporter holds up a begloved fist in solidarity next to a picketer with a long salt and pepper beard holding a “FULL STAFFING NOW” sign.
Photo by Sarah-Ji Rhee.
A worker in a Starbucks solidarity beanie holds a sign that reads, “UNION YES!” The “O” in “UNION” is the Starbucks Workers United logo, featuring a fist holding a coffee cup.
Photo by Sarah-Ji Rhee.
A person in heavy winter wear holds a sign reading Union Yes! in front of a line of cars.
Photo by Sarah-Ji Rhee.

Carbondale, IL
Report by Adam Turl

A few dozen people came in and out of staffing the picket line. The picket started at 4:20 a.m. Most workers participated in the strike. Two workers crossed the picket line. My partner and I were there for the first two hours. Around half the cars that pulled in left upon getting leaflets from the union. Some folks came back with donuts and other stuff for the workers. Workers from Prairie Farms refused to cross the picket line (I’m not sure if they were there to deliver milk or were just grabbing coffee in-between other deliveries). Comrades from YDSA, workers from the teachers union, and the university unions came out to support the strike (mostly in an informal way).

There was no blocking of entrances, but the Starbucks workers made sure to talk to every single person trying to get in. The inside of the cafe was closed, and they were only doing drive-through orders because of the strike. So, workers lined up along and around the drive-thru lane.

Two picketers, including one with a small dog in a strapon carrier, hold signs that read “No Contract No Pup Cups!” and “DON’T SCAB ON STARBUCKS WORKERS.”
Photo by Adam Turl.
Picketers stand scattered across the lawn outside a Starbucks drive-through. One of their signs reads, “Pour Me A Cup of Fair Wages.”
Photo by Adam Turl.
Workers stand in entrance to the Starbucks drive-through. One holds a sign that reads, “PAY US OR CHAOS!!!” A second implores customers not to cross the picket line.
Photo by Adam Turl.

Madison, WI
Report by Sean Larson and Phil Gasper

In Madison, a crew of about twenty or so Starbucks workers was out in good spirits. Their managers had no idea the picket was happening beforehand, but the whole workplace walked out, shutting down the store for the day. We all walked around with some great handmade signs and did a few chants.

Getting people to the picket line early would have been most effective, but I think in a number of places workers were surprised by their success. They had planned to picket until 7 p.m., but they left at 4 p.m. because the store had been closed all day—all the workers walked out and managers didn’t even try to open it without them.

When asked about future plans, workers said that they hope that today’s walkouts will be sufficient to persuade management to bargain in good faith. We shall see.

A pug on a leash sits in front of three picketers, whose faces are not shown and who are bending down holding picket signs. Two printed signs that read, “WORKERS UNITED Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board” feature the hand-written words, “STARBUCKS WORKERS UNITED RED CUP REBELLION, Workers united ” with a drawing of a hand holding a coffee cup. The middle sign reads, “ONE SMALL STEP FOR BARISTAS, ONE GIANT LEAP FOR LABOR, with the words “BARISTAS” and “LABOR” written in bubble letters.
Photo by Sean Larson.

Twin Cities, MN
Report by Paul KD

In the Twin Cities, workers at two Starbucks stores walked out, one in St. Paul and one in St. Anthony, a suburb directly northeast of Minneapolis. I was at the St. Anthony location in the morning. Both opened with managers (I don’t think any workers scabbed), so we had a real picket line! The previous strikes had been at a store in Minneapolis, which the boss never opened, so it took the workers a second to catch on, but they did. The manager was being a jerk and telling them that the property line was way outside of the strip mall, which the workers called BS on. Eventually, the cops came in and told the workers to move their table just a few feet away, so that was a win.

We had some good conversations getting people not to enter the store. My favorite was the guy who told me he was a worker at Fair State Brewing, which unionized in 2020. He got really excited and shouted out, “SOLIDARITY!” Both stores closed around 1 p.m., which was a big victory. The picket lines stayed up for a few hours for a victory lap, but it was starting to snow really hard, so the workers called it a day around 4 p.m. The only negative, I would say, was coordinating with community supporters–it should have been emphasized to come early on the day of the picket. I bet if we have a big line next time, we could shut down the store a lot earlier.

Ann Arbor, MI
Report by Ted McTaggert

Three Ann Arbor Starbucks locations are on strike today. My union partner in crime Anne Jackson and I stopped by the downtown location for an hour or so after spending the earlier part of the morning at a bargaining kick-off rally for GEO, the graduate student employees’ union at the University of Michigan, then a solidarity meeting for GEO allies.

There were two other local Starbucks strike locations. One of the two, at a strip mall on the east side of town, had already gone out on strikes over unfair labor practices a few times this year. This might be the first action for the workers on the west side of town. Another nurse from my local visited them and dropped off a box of Jimmy John’s sandwiches. It sounds like they got some flack from customers who just wanted their coffee.

Meanwhile, the downtown workers successfully shut their store down. The managers initially opened the store, but then “got scared and left,” according to one of the workers we talked to. I think their ability to shut down the downtown store was helped by the fact that you can’t walk a half block in downtown Ann Arbor without finding an indie coffee shop. This is their first strike, although they did have a previous job action. Some national media were in touch with the workers at this store. One of the media officials followed up with a response from Starbucks that they would be happy to sit down at the bargaining table with them, or some such nonsense. The workers at the store said the longest management has stayed at the bargaining table on those rare occasions they have agreed to meet with them is three minutes.

Ultimately, of the three stores that were on the map of participating locations from Ann Arbor, workers at all three were able to shut down their stores.

One of the workers reported that there is a fourth store closer to the college campus that is unionized, but couldn’t get it together in time to participate in the action, where the wait time was almost two hours for coffee, although the app said 20-25 minutes. The downtown workers tried to get the closing team of that store to walk out. They succeeded, and workers at the fourth store walked out at 3 p.m. Pretty impressive in my opinion.

This location appears to do a lot of drive-through business and a lot of the clientele are regular customers. A lot of cars drove through and most people were polite about the store being closed. The horn honks and enthusiastic comments of support were few and far between, but I didn’t hear any words of anger or abuse first hand. Two of the five workers I met there were pretty comfortable interacting with the folks coming through and explaining that they were on strike. None of them seemed that interested in chanting, but given their location in a large strip mall parking lot, that might not have been that effective anyway. The strikers largely knew who the folks driving through were and knew their regular orders. So it sounded like one rude woman from that morning might be switching to decaf as of tomorrow, even if she doesn’t know it yet.

Six young Starbucks workers in cold-weather garb hold signs reading Starbucks on Strike! No Contract No Coffee! and Respect Workers' Rights!
Photo by Ted McTaggert.

Long Beach, CA
Report by Gary Holloway

Management at the store at 7th Street and Redondo Avenue did not even try to open at 4:30 a.m. as usual, or 5:30 a.m., or at all.

Josie, a striking worker from the store told their story:

“When we saw what was happening at stores in New York, we sat around and talked. Everybody had an idea of how to make this place better. Before we knew it, we were one of the first unionized Southern California stores. A few weeks ago, the union and the company began negotiations. After five minutes, they went to caucus. After 30 minutes, we realized they weren’t coming back. They stayed in their room for another 6 1/2 hours and left.”

Workers from the Long Beach store and the nearby Lakewood store, also on strike, were going back and forth supporting each others’ actions.

Workers hold signs that read, “Starbucks Workers United,” “ON THUR[S] WE STRIKE,” and “SEIZE THE BEANS OF PRODUCTION,” with drawings of Christmas lights and coffee beans.
Photo by Gary Holloway.
The inside of a deserted Starbucks store.
Photo by Gary Holloway
Workers hold red picket signs and march in a circle outside a Starbucks store.
Photo by Gary Holloway.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Elliot Stoller via Flikr; modified by Tempest.

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