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Saturday, May 18, 2024
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More than 20 Starbucks employees from the State Street and Capitol Square locations went on a one-day strike Saturday, July 1 as part of a nationwide union campaign responding to alleged demands from Starbucks management to remove LGBTQ+ Pride decorations from stores.

State Street and Capitol Square Starbucks employees join nationwide Pride strike

Union members demonstrated in front of the Capitol Square location and claimed Starbucks district and regional managers instructed them to remove Pride decorations from both State Street and Capitol Square locations.

More than 20 Starbucks employees from the State Street and Capitol Square locations went on a one-day strike Saturday morning as part of a nationwide union campaign responding to alleged demands from Starbucks management to remove LGBTQ+ Pride decorations from stores.

During Saturday’s demonstration, union members characterized the company as being unwilling to negotiate with employees seeking higher pay and better access to healthcare. Workers at Madison Starbucks locations have also accused the company of union-busting and other retaliatory action against workers participating in union organization. 

Earlier in June, employees from the two locations alleged district and regional managers asked them to take down the stores’ Pride decorations, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A spokesperson for Starbucks denied any change to company policy and said it "continues to encourage our store leaders to celebrate with their communities."

Starbucks Workers United, affiliated with the larger union group Workers United, organized Saturday’s strike, which organizer and Capitol Square Starbucks shift leader Evan McKenzie said was Madison’s “largest ever” demonstration against Starbucks.

“Today, as part of a nationwide action involving over 150 other stores and thousands of other workers, we are highlighting how [Starbucks’] union busting campaign has shifted towards a blatant attack on queer people,” McKenzie said during a press conference.

What led to the strike

Saturday’s strike was built around preventing the removal of pride decorations, allowing Starbucks locations to decorate their stores — both for LBGTQ+ pride and holidays — and for Starbucks “to come down to the negotiating table with us,” organizer Matt Cartwright told The Daily Cardinal.

Unionization at both locations is a recent phenomenon. Employees at the Capitol Square location voted to join Starbucks Workers United in June 2022, while the State Street location voted June 1, 2023, to join the same union.

“Starbucks is illegally refusing to bargain with us for a contract… they refuse to bargain with every store in the country, even though they are legally mandated to by the National Labor Relations Board,” McKenzie said in an interview with the Cardinal. 

McKenzie said the removal of Pride decorations from cafés is a first “as far as we can tell,” and workers were allowed to decorate the Madison stores for Pride month in previous years. 

“There’s a culture, or at least there’s supposed to be a culture of acceptance, tolerance and celebration,” McKenzie added. 

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McKenzie also said that a majority of the cafés that have been instructed to remove Pride decorations are unionized. “This is pretty clear intimidation,” he said.

Despite Starbucks “framing itself as a place for queer people to work and feel safe,” McKenzie said the union’s challenges to Starbucks’ have made the company “show their face extremely quickly.”

“We’ve been saying at the store that we believe if it was profitable and culturally appropriate to be selling hateful merch or Blue Lives Matter cups, or any reactionary right wing products, [Starbucks] would do it in a heartbeat, because it’s all about profit,” he said.

Starbucks’ support, he explained, only goes as far “as it protects [their] bottom line.”

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Questions around decoration policy, healthcare

In an email response to a request for comment from The Daily Cardinal, a Starbucks representative provided a list of the company’s prior support for LGBTQ+ people, including its coverage of gender affirming care for employees and affirmation that Pride decorations are permitted. 

“Starbucks has not pulled any Pride merchandise from our stores and have not altered our corporate policies or approach to celebrating Pride Month,” the spokesperson said. They also indicated that operators have noticed “limited effects to the business as a result of protest and strike activities.”

The company publicly shared a partner-wide memo Tuesday written by Starbucks North America president Sara Trilling in response to employee allegations. The memo announced Starbucks’ intention to “issue clearer centralized guidelines” for what the company termed “visual displays and decorations.”

Cartwright, an employee at the State Street location, told the Cardinal justifications for taking down pride decorations varied. Some managers claimed Pride decorations obstructed views or went against uniformity standards while others said they weren’t “welcoming to everyone,” he said.

Cartwright said the decoration policy is “an entirely new thing” and that Madison Starbucks locations had previously decorated their stores for holidays, including Pride, without issues. 

Better pay and better healthcare coverage, particularly for gender-affirming care, were also  among the union’s broader goals in Saturday’s strike. Workers allege health coverage for gender-affirming care was promised as an employee benefit but later taken away from union members.

The company denied withholding gender-affirming care in a statement to the Cardinal, saying that all partners enrolled in Starbucks’ health plan can access gender-affirming care benefits “regardless of organizing activity or union status.”

Queer and trans community among Starbucks employees

Senua O’Connor, a Capitol Square Starbucks employee, told the Cardinal she sees the removal of pride decor as “a direct attack on unions.” 

“It makes our partners feel unsafe and less accepted by the company that we’re employed by,” O’Connor said. Though she said she felt “protected by her coworkers,” she doesn’t “feel protected by the company.”

With increasing amounts of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passing state legislatures throughout the country, O’Connor said right-wing rhetoric implying “trans people are child predators and truly evil things” makes corporations realize “it’s harder to remain making profitable increases by supporting us as trans people.” 

“In general, I think it’s easier for corporations to go along with the flow of where national rhetoric is going, where national profits are going,” she said.

Despite their qualms with the company’s actions, employees spoke highly of their coworkers and the tight-knit “community of queer people” that work at both locations.

“Some of the strongest union workers behind the scenes from Starbucks are queer, and Starbucks knows that. They’re realizing that we are a real honest threat to them in terms of worker power and people power,” O’Connor added. 

For O’Connor, the union’s efforts are about “trying to make this job livable.” 

“I mean, at any given time, there’s always a trans person working, if not multiple or…five or six. That has not been the case at any other job I’ve had in Madison,” O’Connor said. “I found these really wonderful trans people that I would love to work with for a very long time.” 

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Liam Beran

Liam Beran is the Campus News Editor for The Daily Cardinal and a third-year English major. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for campus, state and in-depth news. Follow him on Twitter at @liampberan.


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