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Starbucks strike on Red Cup Day: What were the workers demanding?

Employees walked out on one of the busiest days of the year to protest against the company’s reluctance to engage in collective bargaining talks.

Update:
Starbucks workers strike on Red Cup Day
ANGELA WEISSGetty

More than 2,000 Starbucks employees staged a walk-out on Thursday, which coincided with the brand’s Red Cup Day.

Starbucks was offering a free red reusable cup with any purchase of a holiday seasonal drink, but the annual event has become a major headache for staff. Workers at 112 unionized Starbucks stores across the country launched the strike in protest against the company’s failure to adequately staff stores on busy promotional days.

Red Cup Day is notoriously difficult on baristas and notoriously profitable for Starbucks: striking on a day that affects both us and customers more so than an average day is a great way to connect with the community about why unions in the workplace are needed” said Emily Schule, a Massachusetts Starbucks barista.

The strikers argue that company leaders had refused to engage with union bargaining and had left them with no choice but to act. In the past year more than 260 Starbuck stores have unionized and the Starbucks Workers United has accused the company of deliberately delaying the bargaining process.

Why did Starbuck employees strike on Red Cup Day?

In recent years huge numbers of major brands have introduced their own seasonal events in a bid to draw more customers in. Starbucks’ Red Cup Day has become one of its most profitable days of the year, bringing in those eager to bag a coveted limited-edition holiday cup for free.

But despite it being a lucrative day for the company and a busy one for staff, workers are not currently offered any additional recompense. The union said that the strike was designed to draw attention to the company’s attempts to strangle the growing union movement in its workforce.

Just last month Starbucks announced that it was filing 22 charges of unfair labor practices against the Workers United union. The charges relate to their claim that recordings were made of the bargaining negotiations, which is prohibited by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

However evidence suggests that public opinion is very much with the workers. Vox reports that the stores that did stay open for Red Cup Day saw much less foot traffic than they would normally expect as many customers refused to cross the picket line.

“We have not even a fraction of what would normally happen on regular Red Cup Day,” barista Maria Flores told reporters from the picket line outside a Queens branch of Starbucks.