Seattle Starbucks stores join 3-day strike as union fight intensifies

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Three Seattle Starbucks cafes joined a three-day nationwide walkout that began Friday, an escalation in the nascent union’s push to secure contracts for the newly organized stores. 

Workers at stores in downtown Seattle and Madison Park joined those elsewhere who expect to picket 100 stores across the U.S. over the next three days.

The workers fault Starbucks for closing union stores and refusing union demands for good faith bargaining and fair treatment. Workers at the Special Reserve Roastery, at Minor Avenue and Pike Street, will picket through the weekend; those from the Madison Park store will continue to picket Saturday; while those working at the Fifth Avenue and Pike store plan to strike Sunday.

The action will be the longest strike in the history of Starbucks Workers United, which marked its one-year anniversary last Friday. Last month, eight Washington stores, including the Fifth and Pike location, joined 110 U.S. stores for a one-day walkout on Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day, when the company gives reusable cups to customers who order a holiday drink.

“We demand that Starbucks and (CEO) Howard Schultz put an end to union-busting immediately, show up to the bargaining table in good faith and protect the lives of the employees they claim to care so much about,” said Katie Merritt, shift supervisor at the Madison Park store.

Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull said the workers’ claims that Starbucks has targeted unionized stores for closure and refused to bargain in good faith are misleading. The work stoppages, he said, disrupt the “Starbucks experience.”

“Despite these delay tactics, we remain focused on working together and engaging meaningfully and directly with the union to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone, and we urge Workers United to uphold their promises to partners by moving the bargaining process forward,” Trull said. Starbucks refers to workers as partners.

Merritt said workers at the Madison Park store have been denied the opportunity to bargain or sign a contract. Unionized workers’ hours are being cut during one of the busiest seasons of the year, and they are being denied credit card tipping, which nonunion stores have implemented, she said.

“Although Madison Park Starbucks is known as Howard Schultz’s home store, we are just like any other Starbucks,” Merritt said. “If Howard’s own neighborhood store baristas are treated this poorly, that only speaks to the injustices Starbucks partners are experiencing nationwide.” 

In Seattle, the union and Starbucks are waiting for a National Labor Relations Board judge to rule on whether the company’s decision to add benefits exclusively to nonunion stores breaks federal labor law. Workers United is also protesting union store closures. 

Six stores, including the city’s first unionized store at Broadway and East Denny Way, closed in Seattle. Starbucks claimed unsolvable safety concerns threatened the well-being of customers and workers at those stores. But the union argued the closure of the store was retaliatory. 

Of Starbucks’ 9,000 company-run U.S. stores, 261 have unionized since late last year, according to the NLRB.

Starbucks Workers United has filed at least 446 unfair labor practice charges against the company, including claims that Starbucks is firing labor organizers and refusing to bargain. Starbucks has filed 47 charges against the union, among them allegations that Workers United broke bargaining rules by recording sessions and posting the recordings online. The union claims there was no recording.

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