Workers at Madison’s two unionized Starbucks locations held a walkout Wednesday ahead of a nationwide strike over stalled contract negotiations.
Employees at Starbucks cafes on State Street and Capitol Square walked out to protest poor working conditions created by staffing shortages and to put pressure on the company’s management to negotiate with union Starbucks Workers United for a contract, workers and union organizers said.
Starbucks workers across the country are scheduled to hold a nationwide strike Thursday coinciding with the company’s Red Cup Day promotion, one of the busiest days of the year for stores. Hundreds of Starbucks locations are expected to participate, according to Capitol Square shift supervisor and union organizer Evan McKenzie.
“This is a fight that we need everyone in on because we're going to win, and we want as much power as possible to make this an incredible contract,” McKenzie told The Daily Cardinal.
Workers at the State Street location previously went on strike in September over severe staffing shortages that left workers unable to keep the store open, State Street shift supervisor and union organizer Matthew Cartwright said.
“Starbucks isn't giving any extra tools, support, anything for these promotion days, and it's just devastating workers,” Cartwright told the Cardinal.
According to Cartwright, management has not brought in enough staff to meet high customer volume on the company’s promotion days, which are generally some of the busiest days of the year.
As a result, the stores have faced “rampant” understaffing, according to State Street employee Maeve Perkins.
“It [can be] such a stressful and difficult work environment,” Perkins added. “People would be crying on the floor, and I would go home and just be so exhausted that I couldn't do anything.”
In a statement to the Cardinal, Starbucks said the company has announced schedule improvements to “provide all hourly U.S. partners more stability, flexibility and consistency in their weekly work schedules.”
“Our retail leaders have the flexibility to build and adjust staffing schedules to reflect the unique and dynamic needs of each store — balancing store resources and expected customer demand to ensure partners are on the floor when they're needed most,” Starbucks said.
The staffing shortages have caused workers to quit, McKenzie said, further increasing the pressure on remaining employees.
“I really have invested a lot of time and energy into this job, and I do like working here,” McKenzie said. “But over the last couple of months, it has genuinely been one of the hardest things to get up and bring the energy for.”
Negotiations between union and company remain stalled, organizers say
The walkout also serves to pressure management into contract negotiations with Workers United, Cartwright said.
McKenzie said representatives for Starbucks scheduled initial bargaining sessions with union representatives for the Capitol Square location but arrived to the meeting late and left minutes after showing up. The State Street location has received silence from the company about scheduling bargaining sessions, Cartwright said.
McKenzie said the company’s stalling is an attempt “to drain our resources, to get us to quit, to try to stop the movement.”
“We've been unionized for well over a year, and we've seen virtually zero budging from the company in terms of coming to the table and bargaining for a fair contract,” McKenzie said. “That's unacceptable.”
Starbucks said the company has negotiated in good faith with unionized stores and said Workers United “hasn't agreed to meet to progress contract bargaining in more than four months.”
“We remain committed to working with all partners, side-by-side, to elevate the everyday, and we hope that Workers United’s priorities will shift to include the shared success of our partners and working to negotiate contracts for those they represent,” Starbucks said.
However, Starbucks is no stranger to allegations of union busting.
As of August 2022, Starbucks had the most NLRB cases of any private employer, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. NLRB judges ruled Starbucks broke labor laws over 130 times in six different states, with additional cases still on trial.
An NLRB judge found Starbucks retaliated against employees for unionizing, promised benefits if workers rejected unionization, kept pro-union workers under surveillance and relocated union organizers.
Federal courts in Tennessee and Michigan also issued emergency injunctions requiring Starbucks to reinstate illegally fired union workers and prevented the company from stopping other unionization efforts.
A manager was fired for posting about efforts to unionize on Twitter at Perkin’s previous location in Detroit, she said. Starbucks also fired the main organizer for “being late too many times.”
In the wake of these efforts, organizers are glad to have two unionized Starbucks stores in Madison, Cartwright said.
“We know that when we go on walkouts, when we go on strikes that the other one is there to help support us, including physically at the picket line,” Cartwright said. “We know we're able to provide that support for each other, and that's a wonderful thing.”
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 4:25 p.m. Wednesday to include Starbucks' response.
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.