Starbucks workers go on strike

North Lamar location participates in nationwide protests for better working conditions, fairer tipping practice, demands corporate participate in union negotiations

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Francie Wilhelm

On Thursday and Friday, employees at the North Lamar Starbucks, left up the street from McCallum, went on strike as part of the nationwide “Red Day Rebellion” to protest how the corporation has responded to union demands to improve working conditions.

Francie Wilhelm, co-news editor & co-online managing editor

Local members of Starbucks Workers United at the North Lamar Boulevard Starbucks location went on strike on Thursday along with more than a hundred U.S. stores to protest Red Cup Day in what was known as the “Red Cup Rebellion.” The annual holiday season event often leads to employees being unable to keep up with the sudden surge of customers. The union said this was the largest coordinated labor protest since Starbucks locations began unionizing late last year.

We’re hoping that maybe with more actions, Starbucks corporate will reflect on their egregious union busting and make some positive changes.”

— strike organizer Morgan Leavy

Employees at the North Lamar Boulevard location, which is adjacent to McCallum, continued their strike into Friday. 

Employees were still present and serving customers inside the store, but outside, the sidewalk was lined with strikers and supporters with signs, handing out red cups with the union logo instead of the traditional Starbucks-provided ones. 

According to striking employees, the goal of the North Lamar strike, and the union action across the country, is to protest unfair labor practices that have been left largely unaddressed by Starbucks corporate. 

Union leader and strike organizer Morgan Leavy left her position at the North Lamar location two weeks ago after working as a partner for over a year. Leavy points to a lack of credit card tipping as a reason for quitting. 

“We didn’t get the credit card tipping [so] my wages were still really low but rent in Austin went up and I had to quit,” Leavy said. “My hand has been forced in that way.” 

Other non-unionized locations have received a rollout of credit card tipping and additional benefits

“We do not believe that they intend to give it [credit card tipping] to us, especially because so many others now have them and we still do not,” Leavy said. “We [also] didn’t get part of the new raise they promised everyone and we also don’t have the new dress code updates. We will still get in trouble [for that.]” 

Union supporters Gaige Talluy and Nolan Ross pose with signs on the sidewalk outside of the North Lamar Starbucks location. (Francie Wilhelm)

The North Lamar location unionized five months ago and has not yet met with Starbucks corporate.

“We had a date for bargaining and then they just took it away,” Leavy said. 

According to Leavy, Starbucks has a history of not respecting union bargaining meetings, often canceling or walking out on partners. The National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly issued complaints about the company based on these claims and in the few cases so far, agency judges have ruled in favor of the unions.

We remain committed to all partners and will continue to work together, side-by-side, to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone.”

— Starbucks statement released on Thursday

The company has denied that it is behaving unlawfully in handling union disputes; however, labor experts view these rebuttals skeptically. 

“They did put out a statement, saying that they support the right to strike,” Leavy said, “but then they made some BS excuse of like ‘Yeah but we continue to show up, we’ve shown up to 50 meetings.’ Your definition of show up is literally show up and then leave. You haven’t actually negotiated anything yet.”

The aforementioned statement was put out by the corporation on Thursday, stating: “We remain committed to all partners and will continue to work together, side-by-side, to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone.” 

Despite being opposed to unionization efforts, Starbucks has recognized Starbucks Workers United’s legal right to protest. 

Another point of stress for the North Lamar Starbucks employees is the mobile order system, which frustrates customers with promised wait times that are impossible for staff to fulfill. 

“The pandemic really shifted how people order,” longtime employee Eric Evers said. We are the busiest store in our district for mobile orders. We get so many all at once.” 

When customers use the mobile system, hundreds can send in orders at once and all receive the same wait time, making the actual queue much longer. This problem is exemplified by consistent understaffing issues. 

I hope they [Starbucks] finally realize that they need to take it seriously, and they actually start bargaining in good faith. ”

— Starbucks employee Eric Evers

Evers hopes that this strike will force Starbucks to take employee grievances seriously. 

“I hope they finally realize that they need to take it seriously, and they actually start bargaining in good faith,” he said.

In the long-term, Leavy and her former co-workers aim for their collective actions to lead to beneficial and sustainable changes in the Starbucks work environment. 

“We’re trying to put a dent in their wall so they realize that our labor is worth something,” Leavy said. “We’re hoping that maybe with more actions, Starbucks corporate will reflect on their egregious union busting and make some positive changes.” 

Local management from the North Lamar store has yet to release a statement on the strike.