Early Wednesday morning, workers at Starbucks Coffee on 18th and Castro Streets lined up in front of the locked store with picket signs. They were joined by supporters from the community, including members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and other union members. The Starbucks store at 4094 18th Street is San Francisco’s first unionized location, having voted to join the Starbucks Workers United union in August of 2022.
The strike was part of a nationwide day of action planned by Starbucks workers protesting against Starbucks’ refusal to negotiate with unionized stores as well as substantial reductions in hours and store closures. The action coincided with “Founder’s Day”, a holiday created by Starbucks to celebrate the founder and former CEO Howard Schultz.
The Castro location is one of hundreds of stores to vote in favor of unionizing since 2021. Starbucks workers have pushed back against the company with demands for stronger control over their working conditions, hours, and protection from retaliation by management. Despite the success of union drives nationwide, Starbucks corporate has yet to engage in bargaining with their unionized workers.
Starbucks workers in the Bay Area have joined in the campaign, with union drives at Starbucks locations throughout the bay, including San Francisco, Oakland, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, and Marin County.
According to picketing Starbucks workers, the Castro Starbucks union drive began during 2022 after a sewage leak was discovered under the store. The employees, who management calls “Partners”, notified management about a smell issue only to see their location closed for repairs. After being assured that the sewage leak would be fixed quickly, employees were forced to wait months and work on-call at other locations. Many felt abandoned by the company and struggled to stay afloat financially, which fostered discussion about unionizing.
Kyle Trainer, one of the organizers at the Castro location, was on the picket line handing out flyers and spoke about the decision to unionize.
“This store means a lot to us and to the community, and even if it isn’t “our store” on paper, it feels like our store. We want it to be the best it can be, and it seems like Starbucks isn’t interested in that.”
Another organizer, who goes by Princess, agreed with the sentiment.
“All of our asks and demands are thrown out the window, workers are not prioritized. We don’t have a voice at work in any direction of the company or of our store.”
Braving the end of a powerful storm, the employees of the Starbucks location were on site from the early morning until the afternoon, carrying signs, chanting, and speaking to passersby about the strike. Asked about the response from the community, Trainer was appreciative. “A lot of people forget that San Francisco is a union town and that sentiment is still there. San Franciscans like to see stuff like this, people out in the street standing up for themselves.”
The picketers were joined by San Francisco District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, who picked up a sign and offered his support. “We know what’s going to happen eventually, so I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the future for the new Starbucks CEO and the shareholders: unionized Starbucks stores all across America.” Preston said in an impromptu speech. “What you all are doing is not just for Starbucks, but is part of a national resurgence in the labor movement.”
Trainer also spoke about the growing support for organized labor and the ways it has impacted him personally. “The times we’re living in now can feel really bleak, and I can say for myself that before the union drive happened there was a time where I felt like I was at a dead end and there was nothing I was going to be able to do. This union wave is really giving people like me hope.”
Starbucks has not voluntarily recognized any unionized locations or reached terms for a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Starbucks employees have filed hundreds of Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal department which enforces labor law, including at the Castro location. Despite this, Starbucks workers are optimistic that continual pressure on the company will force them to the bargaining table.
Trainer shared that the union has already resulted in major wins for workers: “We’re the reason we’ve started getting credit card tips included in our paycheck. The company had been talking about that for years. It’s not a tough thing to do but as soon as the union happens lo and behold they get it sorted out.”
Starbucks founder and two-time CEO Howard Schultz recently resigned from his position, just two weeks before he is set to testify in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee regarding Starbucks’ treatment of unionized workers. Viewed as the face of the company, Schultz has been unafraid to push back against the demands of Starbucks workers, even retaining the services of “Union Avoidance” experts Littler Mendelson P.C.
When asked what questions he would level at Schultz were he on the committee, Trainer offered: “The main thing I want to know is why are you doing this? It’s just so much easier for everyone if we just sit down and bargain. I want to know why he puts on this progressive image when it feels like pandering. I’ve worked at Starbucks for nine years and it’s never been that great. They never really stand up for the stuff they say they stand up for, so why pretend?”
Schultz’ testimony is set for March 29th.