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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Starbucks union plans to strike over Pride décor and labor practices

Starbucks workers protested outside the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle on Friday as part of a collective action over a dispute about Pride decorations.

By J. Edward Moreno and Noam Scheiber

Thousands of workers at organized Starbucks stores across the nation will stage strikes this week, their union said on Friday, after workers in some states said management prohibited them from putting up decorations for Pride Month.

The company denied the accusations and issued a statement declaring that it “has been and will continue to be at the forefront of supporting the LGBTQIA2+ community.”

Starbucks workers in a number of stores said this month that they had been told that no decorations for the annual LGBTQ celebration, such as rainbow flags, were allowed this year, a shift from previous years. In interviews arranged through their union, workers said the given reasons varied.

Starbucks, which has roughly 9,300 corporate-owned stores in the United States, has said decoration policies are often specific to each store.

A Starbucks official involved in the response to the union campaign said the company decided last year, after the union campaign began to spread across the country, to be more aggressive in enforcing dress codes and policies on what could be posted in stores. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, attributed the change to concern that many stores would otherwise become inundated with union paraphernalia.

But a Starbucks spokesperson on Friday called the claim “false” and said there had been no change in the company’s guidance on displays and decorations in the past nine years.

A corporate statement — over the names of Laxman Narasimhan, the CEO, and Sara Trilling, executive vice president and president, North America — did not address store-by-store practices. But it noted that for Pride Month, the rainbow flag was being flown over the company’s Seattle headquarters and in thousands of Starbucks stores.

“We continue to encourage our store leaders to celebrate with their communities including for U.S. Pride Month in June,” it said.

Casey Moore, a union spokesperson, derided the corporate statement, saying, “Instead of apologizing for there being upper management across the country who made the decision to not allow Pride decorations, they’ve doubled down that it didn’t happen.”

Starbucks Workers United said employees at more than 150 stores would strike over the company’s labor practices and its “hypocritical treatment of LGBTQIA+ workers.”

The union represents about 8,000 of the company’s workers in more than 300 stores.

“Starbucks is scared of the power that their queer partners hold, and they should be,” Moe Mills, who works at a Starbucks location in Richmond Heights, Missouri, said in a statement provided by the union.

In addition to its complaints over the Pride decoration issue, the union said it was striking over the company’s broader response to the organizing campaign, including widespread retaliation against union supporters. The union said in its statement that workers were “demanding that Starbucks negotiate a fair contract with union stores and stop their illegal union-busting campaign.”

The company has consistently denied accusations of illegality.

Starbucks workers and the union say rules on employee conduct have been enforced more aggressively as a way to intimidate and retaliate against union supporters.

“They’re trying to make people feel unwelcome in whatever way possible — through more strict enforcement of the dress code or anything,” said Casey Moore, a union spokesperson. “The Pride decorations are another level of that.”

In a sweeping ruling in March, a federal administrative law judge found that Starbucks had repeatedly violated labor law by “more strictly enforcing the dress code and personal appearance policy in response to union activity.” The judge also found that the company had more strictly enforced its attendance policy and its policy on soliciting and distributing notices within stores.

Starbucks has disputed the findings and is appealing the decision to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington.

Unionized Starbucks workers have staged waves of strikes in the last several months over what they say are the company’s delay tactics at the bargaining table and other anti-union tactics like retaliatory firings and store closings. The administrative judge’s ruling in March also found that Starbucks had illegally dismissed seven Buffalo-area workers last year in response to union activity.

In April, the labor board issued a complaint accusing the company of failing to bargain in good faith at more than 100 stores. It was one of dozens of complaints tied to labor law violations that the board has issued since the union first filed petitions seeking votes in three Buffalo-area stores in August 2021.

The company has denied the accusations and blames the union for bargaining delays, citing the union’s insistence on using video chat software to broadcast sessions to employees not at the bargaining table.

Howard Schultz, shortly after stepping down as Starbucks’ chief executive in March, denied allegations of anti-union conduct in testimony before a Senate committee.

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