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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Madison Starbucks workers strike in nationwide protest for better pay, working conditions

Employees at the Starbucks located on Capitol Square say the company has refused to negotiate with the union.

Employees of the Starbucks located on Capitol Square went on strike Wednesday as part of a nationwide protest to push for better pay and working conditions. 

Workers picketed outside the Starbucks on 1 East Main St. after they claimed representatives from the company refused to negotiate with employees for better compensation.

Lee Marfyak, a shift supervisor of five years, told The Daily Cardinal workers’ demand jobs that afford them a level of stability and the ability to support themselves without needing additional sources of income. 

“We want a good workplace. We don’t want to tear down Starbucks. We don’t want to drive them out of business,” Marfyak said. “We just want to be able to make enough to make our ends meet and have a decent work life where we’re not stressed and doing six jobs at once.”

The company punished Starbucks locations that chose to unionize, such as the Capitol Square location, according to Marfyak. For example, Starbucks implemented credit card tipping only at non-unionized locations, leaving unionized employees without an additional source of income.

Marfyak said credit card tipping would provide a much-needed boost in pay for employees without harming Starbucks’ profits. 

“It would cost Starbucks no money,” Marfyak said. “It’s literally just a software update they could roll out, and it would increase our wages by like 10 to 15%. It would be substantial, especially when we’re all barely or not making a living wage and can’t really survive.”

According to a survey from Pew Research Center, 41% of Americans don’t pay any of their typical weekly expenses with cash. Only 14% use cash for all or most of their expenses.

Another employee, James, who asked to remain anonymous, said wages are not sufficient for employees to have financial security. 

“My pay pretty much covers rent and food, and maybe I can buy new pants or something like that,” James said. “If anything major happens [like] an emergency, that’s always scary.”

Senua O’Connor, a barista at the Capitol Square location, said Starbucks has also implemented new services such as DoorDash delivery without scheduling additional staff, leaving employees feeling overwhelmed with the added responsibilities. 

“I think the understaffing is getting to be really tangible,” O’Connor said. “Pretty consistently, we’re noticing those days where we’re just understaffed, and Starbucks is just flooding us.”

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“Along with low labor hours, people lose hours they expect to work per week,” said Joanna Weir, a part-time Starbuck employee. “Often stores don’t have the coverage they need because of labor hours set by corporate, who don’t have the insight on what coverage a store needs.” 

Employees have attempted to negotiate with Starbucks for raises and improved working conditions, according to Marfyak, but the company has refused to listen to their demands. 

“So far, we’ve had one negotiation session a few months ago, where they walked out of the room after probably less than 10 minutes,” Marfyak said. 

The strike at the Madison Starbucks coincided with protests from workers in more than 100 locations across the country, including Starbucks locations in Minnesota, Colorado and New Jersey, in what organizers called a “National Day of Action.”

Workers and labor advocates criticized Starbucks for allegedly undermining unions throughout the country, including firing workers for union activity

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, headed by chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), called former interim CEO Howard Shultz to testify before the committee on March 29 about the company’s labor practices. Weir said the Senate testimony could serve as an opportunity to hold Starbucks accountable for its treatment of workers.

“Union busting tactics take a lot away from employees,” Weir said. “With the Democrats’ support for unions we’re hoping to see laws pass that make unionizing easier. I’m hoping Bernie [Sanders] and the committee see the evidence.”

Schultz stepped down as interim CEO of the company Monday, days before he was scheduled to testify. 

James said good working conditions are a prerequisite for Starbucks to maintain successful locations. 

“If they want good employees that are always going to do a good job and provide great customer service, they should make it a type of job that is sustainable,” James said.

Ultimately, O’Connor said the workers are fighting for the ability to make a stable, livable wage.

“The thing that we want in the end is just to be able to work here and have it be a job that you could potentially stay at for your whole life,” O’Connor said.

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Francesca Pica

Francesca Pica is the editor-in-chief for The Daily Cardinal. She previously served as the city news editor. She has covered multiple municipal elections, state politics and is a leading reporter on Madison labor issues. She served as an intern for The Capital Times, currently serves as a WisPolitics intern and will also intern with the Wisconsin State Journal this summer. 

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