Starbucks baristas staged one-day strikes Monday at one of the chain’s Baltimore coffee shops and at other Maryland and Virginia stores to protest what the newly unionized workers say have been delays in negotiating labor contracts.
“We’ve been trying ... to sit down with Starbucks and bargain on behalf of our union, and Starbucks has just been pulling shady stuff to get out of it,” said Alex Boyd, a shift supervisor at Starbucks in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood.
The retailer has objected to petitions to unionize filed by workers at individual stores around the United States and taken steps to convince them that they’ll be worse off with a union.
“We believe that a direct relationship with our partners — where we have the flexibility to share success, as we always have — is the right path forward for our company, our partners and our stakeholders,” said Andrew W. Trull, a Starbucks spokesman, in an email Monday.
Starbucks touts benefits such as average wages of $17.50 per hour, comprehensive health coverage, tuition reimbursement, paid parental leave and equity ownership through stock grants.
“I love working for Starbucks,” said Boyd, a 32-year-old Essex resident. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been here as long as I have. But the company that I started working for nine years ago is not the company I’m working for right now.”
Boyd said coffee prices keep going up, but paychecks don’t reflect that, and often, “the price of two drinks is more than I make in an hour. We’re not asking for the world ... we just want to be treated reasonably for the work we’re expected to do.”
The strikes were the latest in a series of labor actions since a campaign to unionize the company’s stores started in late 2021. The fast-growing national movement to unionize the giant coffee chain shop by shop gained momentum amid the pandemic as workers complained of worsening workplace conditions.
So far, more than 7,500 workers at 300 Starbucks stores nationwide have organized unions, forming more new unions than at any other U.S. company since 2000, said Starbucks Workers United, which represents the workers.
Starbucks countered that more than 97% of workers are not unionized, and that only 5% of company-owned stores in Virginia and 2% in Maryland have pursued union representation.
In recent months, workers said, the company has been cutting hours to a point where some say they’re at risk of losing health benefits.
Mizzy Pareidolia, a 23-year-old Starbucks worker who lives in Mount Vernon, said she had to take on a second job at a grocery store.
“I’m just not getting enough hours,” Pareidolia said.
But she said she wants to stay at Starbucks long enough to help finalize a labor contract to help improve future conditions in a “highly underappreciated” service industry.
Workers said they picked Monday to strike over what they called unfair labor practices after Starbucks agreed to meet with workers, but only in Richmond, Virginia, and with too short notice for workers to request time off.
Starbucks disputed that — saying it offered enough notice for workers to ask for time off.
While some workers picketed outside stores, others traveled in vans supplied by the union to show support for unionized workers who were set to bargain in Richmond. About 10 workers went on strike at the Mount Vernon location, joining others in Olney, in Montgomery County, and three in Virginia, in Arlington, Merrifield and Richmond.
Violet Sovine, a barista in the Mount Vernon store, said there’s been no movement on when Starbucks will sit down to negotiate with that store’s workers. The North Charles Street workers voted a year ago to unionize, becoming the coffee chain’s first Maryland workers to organize.
“Since we can’t get bargaining dates for our own stores, we’re mobilizing people to ... provide support to workers at other bargaining at other stores,” said Sovine, who was traveling to Richmond.
In a statement Monday, Starbucks Workers United said employees are fighting for safer workplaces, seniority pay and cost-of-living wage increases, more consistent scheduling, fairness and equity in the workplace, and the right to organize without fear of intimidation.
The union accused the coffee chain giant of refusing to bargain in good faith as it is legally obligated to do.
“At nearly 100 sessions over the last several months, Starbucks has illegally insisted that the union exclude members of their bargaining committee, and have refused to listen to workers’ proposals because of this,” the union’s statement said.
The Evening Sun
The union also said Starbucks would not meet with negotiating workers when bargaining committee members from the union were observing via Zoom.
“These strikes are important because they show we’re going to be relentless until we get a contract,” said Ryan Castle, a worker at the Starbucks in Olney, said in the union’s announcement Monday.
Starbucks contended it has honored the process set out by the National Labor Relations Board at the 21 stores in Maryland and Virginia where employees are represented by Starbucks Workers United. The company said that since October it has attempted to schedule 16 bargaining sessions for represented stores in Maryland and Virginia.
“We respect the rights of all partners to make their own decisions about union representation and to engage in lawful union activities without fear of reprisal or retaliation,” Trull said in an email. “Workers United is asking for a seat at the table, we’re simply encouraging them take their seat in-person at the negotiating table, as required, to move the bargaining process forward.”
On Monday outside the Mount Vernon Starbucks on North Charles Street, Boyd and Pareidolia spoke with customers coming and going from the busy cafe.
Monique Steel, a University of Baltimore sophomore who comes in for coffee every day before class, decided against going in when she heard why the workers went on strike.
“They work really hard, especially at this one. It’s super busy, right next to the university and in the city, so it’s definitely important that they get their rights,” said Steel, who said her mother worked for a union. “My mom’s always taught me, you cannot cross a picket line.”