At least three Colorado Starbucks locations shut down Thursday after workers walked off the job to protest stalled contract negotiations with the company.
The strike affected stores in Denver, Superior and Greeley, while one in Colorado Springs stayed open with managers staffing the store while workers picketed outside. It marked the largest effort to date from the Workers United union, which represents baristas at eight of the coffee chain’s locations in the state.
The demonstrations were part of a nationwide strike that included thousands of other Starbucks workers. Those in Colorado said they hope to speed up ongoing contract negotiations at their stores, which have already unionized.
“We deserve fair wages and a contract,” said Ashyah Secrest, a barista who picketed in the snow outside her store in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood. “Hopefully this will push (the company) to give us new dates.”
More than 100 stores across the country participated, according to the union. Workers timed the strike to coincide with the company’s annual holiday-themed Red Cup Day, which is typically a busy day for Starbucks.
Non-union locations operated as normal Thursday, according to a company spokeswoman.
“In locations where partners choose to participate in (the strike), we respect their right to engage in lawful protest activity,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “Though our focus has been, and continues to be, on uplifting the Starbucks experience for our partners and customers.”
The bargaining process has raised tensions
Tensions between the union and the company have flared in recent months due to delays in the bargaining process. Both sides blame the other for causing hiccups.
Negotiations between a unionized store in Colorado Springs and the company were set to begin in October, but were called off when the company abruptly closed the location.
Starbucks' Cherry Creek shop was the first in the state to secure an in-person bargaining session with the company. Representatives from both sides met in person on Nov. 10, but negotiations lasted less than 10 minutes because of a disagreement over the use of Zoom during the meeting.
Nataly Marquez, a shift supervisor, said the company had previously agreed to let workers stream the meeting on Zoom so colleagues could observe.
Listen on Colorado Matters: How the baristas, and Starbucks’ CEO, see the company’s union battle
“We were really excited,” Marquez said. “But they came into the room and basically just said that we're not allowed to have Zoom.”
Starbucks representatives said it’s against federal rules, and they have filed multiple federal unfair labor practice charges over the Zoom dispute. Meanwhile, the union has filed similar complaints.
“They want to drag everything out,” said Malachi Dray, a spokesman for the Chicago and Midwest Joint Board of Workers United. “They’ve been doing the legal minimum and are failing to recognize these workers’ rights.”
As of Thursday, no other bargaining dates for any union shops in Colorado had been scheduled, Dray said.
Scenes from the picket lines
Those on the picket line in Denver said they hoped the action would get the attention of the company’s leaders as well as customers. Workers and supporters took shifts standing out in the freezing cold and snow, chanting and holding signs.
At one point, a customer walked up to the front door of the Cherry Creek store and stopped.
“I made a mobile order, can I go in?” she asked the group of strikers.
“It’s closed,” Secrest replied.
The customer still pulled on the handle for the door. It was locked.
“I feel like a lot of customers don't even know what's going on or how we're being treated,” Marquez said. “We’re here to show them that we're united together and they can't bully us for that much longer.”
Marquez got hired as a barista two and a half years ago and after a year got promoted to a shift supervisor. She said she started organizing with other employees after her rent in Denver went up and she could no longer afford certain things due to inflation.
She wants to see pay go up and changes in the way the store schedules workers.
“I can't get like $300 taken out of my check to get benefits anymore,” she said. “We get told that there's not enough labor all the time, but we're constantly going up in sales and we're just constantly short-staffed.”
Operations at union shops are expected to go back to normal Friday. After that, workers will focus on trying to get new bargaining dates on the calendar, Secrest said.
“I just want Starbucks and everyone to know that this will not be the end of everything that we're doing to organize,” she said.
More union votes are on the way
The strike comes as interest in organized labor continues to grow among Starbucks workers. On Thursday, another location in Boulder filed paperwork with federal regulators to hold a vote to decide if they will unionize.
At least two other stores in Denver and Colorado Springs are still awaiting their election results. That's after the company disputed the outcome of their union elections.
The National Labor Relations Board is expected to take up the complaints in the coming months.
The board is also reviewing complaints from some Starbucks workers in Denver and Colorado Springs about alleged anti-union “employee interrogations” and retaliatory firings of organizers. Starbucks has denied the claims.
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