Workers at the State Street Starbucks went on strike Thursday, closing the store to protest severe understaffing.
Employees said Starbucks upper management drastically cut the number of new workers hired or transferred to the State Street location ahead of the start of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a time when the store typically brings on additional employees to meet higher demand.
The understaffing left employees overworked and unable to do basic maintenance tasks to keep the store clean, workers said. Shift supervisor and union organizer Matthew Cartwright said employees arrived at Starbucks Thursday morning planning to work their shifts as usual, and the decision to strike was “completely spontaneous.”
“We came into our shifts expecting to work a full day, and we found out that we were pretty understaffed today compared to [this day] last year,” Cartwright said.
During the academic year, the location typically has around 50 employees, and anywhere from 14-17 employees are on the clock during the store’s busiest hours during the morning, Cartwright said. Management cut the total staff down to around 25-30 workers over the summer, according to Cartwright.
And on Thursday, after a few employees called in sick with no replacements, only seven workers showed up.
Seven workers were not enough to keep the store running, Cartwright said. But their district manager told employees to open the store anyway.
Severe understaffing stretches workers too thin during the busiest morning hours, according to Kailea, a barista who was one of the few employees to transfer to the State Street location over the summer.
“We only had three people on bar when we should have four or five, not enough people [to] take orders, and people who are trying to help out are just running around going crazy trying to grab things,” Kailea said. “We just don't have the hands to do all that.”
“It’s really draining, and it’s unfair,” she added.
Cartwright said workers decided to strike to protest the store’s understaffing as well as Starbucks management’s treatment of the store’s union representative, Workers United, during negotiations over wages and working conditions.
“Here we are serving hundreds of customers an hour, and we’re completely understaffed… and they refuse to even deal with us as a union,” he said. “So we said, ‘You know what, no more.’”
The company slowly began to hire more employees to work at the State Street location in the past few weeks, but the store still has far fewer workers than at this point in the previous year, according to Cartwright.
Starbucks did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
‘We will be listened to’
The State Street Starbucks location is one of two unionized Starbucks stores in Madison, having voted 20-2 to unionize in June.
Union organizers alleged Starbucks engaged in attempts to suppress pro-union activity among its employees during their union campaign through increased oversight from management and pressure campaigns to dissuade workers from unionizing.
“This store, and the union as a whole, has not been taken seriously” by Starbucks management, Cartwright said.
Representatives for Starbucks previously said the company treated workers appropriately during the union campaign.
“We are committed to engaging in good faith collective bargaining for each store where a union has been appropriately certified,” Starbucks previously told The Daily Cardinal. “Starbucks has fully honored the process laid out by the NLRB and remains fully committed to our partners' right to engage in lawful labor activities.”
State Street Starbucks employees went on strike in July as part of a nationwide protest against the company for removing Pride decorations from multiple stores across the country. Starbucks said the company did not remove Pride decorations from its locations.
And if understaffing continues, Cartwright said, workers are prepared to strike again in the future.
“We’re here, we’re not going to go away,” Cartwright said. “We will be listened to.”
Francesca Pica is the city news editor for The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple municipal elections and is a leading reporter on Madison labor issues. Additionally, she will serve as a news intern for The Capital Times throughout the summer of 2023.