Starbucks Workers United’s Red Cup Rebellion, Explained

Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) is set to strike on November 16, a day that commemorates the release of collectible holiday cups. Last year, the group’s Red Cup Rebellion involved strikes at over 100 stores, marking the largest coordinated effort by SBWU to date. This year, thousands of workers will walk out of hundreds of Starbucks locations to protest working conditions, including short-staffing and the frequency of promotional days like Red Cup Day. Starbucks has been accused of understaffing, leading to increased wait times, stressful conditions, and a bad experience for customers.

The SBWU aims to leverage this relationship by asking customers to join rallies outside of Starbucks locations, write to Starbucks executives demanding they bargain with the union, or bring pamphlets to non-unionized stores. They are also inviting non-unionized Starbucks workers to walk out in solidarity.

Despite Starbucks locations continuing to unionize over the past year, the union and Starbucks have been stuck in a “stalemate.” The union has filed multiple National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaints over illegal punishment, firings, unfair labor practices, and using the company media policy to keep workers from exercising their right to speak to the press. Starbucks has also denied unionized workers benefits it gives to workers at non-unionized stores and threatened to remove benefits from workers if they unionize.

This year’s Red Cup Rebellion differs from last year’s strike in that coordinated actions from colleges have been taken. Cornell University recently decided to end its contract with Starbucks, while students at Georgetown, UCLA, Boston University, and the University of Washington are asking their colleges to divest from the company.

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