Starbucks Workers Stage Walkout on Red Cup Day, Demand Improved Staffing and Schedules

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In a significant protest against alleged staffing and scheduling issues, employees at hundreds of Starbucks stores across the United States have walked off their jobs on the much-anticipated Red Cup Day, a key promotional event for the coffee giant.

The move, organized by the Workers United, has drawn attention to the challenges faced by Starbucks workers amid increased customer demand and workload.

Starbucks, responding to the walkout, stated that its stores in the U.S. remained “open,” with only “a few dozen stores with some partners on strike.” However, the company emphasized that more than half of those stores were operational, serving customers as usual. The walkout coincided with Red Cup Day, where Starbucks traditionally distributes free red-colored, reusable, holiday-themed cups to customers with their coffee purchases.

The Workers United, representing over 9,000 Starbucks employees at approximately 360 U.S. stores, claimed that Red Cup Day is notoriously one of the “most hard, understaffed days,” leading to increased stress for workers as drink orders accumulate and frustrations from customers mount due to longer wait times.

Outside Starbucks’ Astor Place outlet at New York University’s campus, about a dozen workers were seen picketing, chanting slogans like “no contract, no coffee.” Despite the protest, the outlet continued to attract customers, including NYU staff and students, placing their orders.

Mary Boca, a 22-year-old barista at Astor Place, voiced her concerns, stating that the Starbucks location where she works does not allow customers to tip, resulting in a loss of extra income for employees. 

Boca highlighted the need for higher pay and increased staffing levels, citing management discussions about the necessity to hire 12 additional people during peak periods.

Edwin Palma Solis, a 24-year-old worker at Astor Place, expressed his belief that the inability for customers to tip at the store has discouraged potential hires from joining the location. Starbucks, with nearly 10,000 U.S. company-owned locations, acknowledges that less than 3% of these stores are currently represented by a union.

This protest follows a similar one last year, where workers at over 100 U.S. company-owned Starbucks locations participated in a one-day strike on Red Cup Day. Starbucks had announced earlier this month that it would increase hourly pay for its U.S. retail workers by at least 3% from 2024, a move criticized by employees as “tone-deaf” in light of the company’s 11% increase in fourth-quarter revenue and recent wage hikes in other industries.