Workers at the Maple Street Starbucks took to the picket line last week for a one-day strike over stalled contract negotiations.
When the Maple Street shop unionized in early June, it was part of a meteoric increase in unionized Starbucks across the U.S. After the first store unionized in Buffalo, New York, less than two years ago, 287 stores have successfully held union elections, while another 91 have held elections where the union did not garner enough votes to win.
The striking Maple Street workers said Starbucks has refused to bargain with the union to establish a contract, which is why they decided to go on the one-day strike. They also said they want full staffing at the coffee shop.
“We want to be met at the bargaining table and we want Starbucks to stop cutting labor,” one striker said. “We don’t have enough staff to keep up with growing demand at the store.”
As the workers and supporters gathered for the picket line on the sultry Wednesday morning (March 22), cars driving by honked their support. One friend of the organizers passed out bottled water and cups of vegetable soup.
Rowan Bienes-Allen, sat by the storefront door with a laptop and a sign saying “Ask me about the strike.” So I did. As we spoke, she was asked to move by a manager wearing a Black history month shirt. We moved off the property to the sidewalk.
“I am supporting workers on strike because Starbucks is consistently making the contract extremely difficult to negotiate,” Bienes-Allen said.
Allen’s husband works for Starbucks while Allen studies law full time. She said that they are barely able to make rent on his wages.
“They try to get away with no overtime,” she said. “They schedule him for less than 40 hours and then keep him late to avoid overtime.”
During Carnival season, the company does not allow overtime the store even though the store is regularly swamped. “Anytime NOLA has a festival, which is often, Stabucks corporate doesn’t recognize that as anything,” said Allen.
Another striker, Starbucks employee and union member DJ, has worked at Starbucks for 13 years, including the past eight years at the Maple Street location. Though DJ is a shift supervisor, he has to do barista duties as well because of consistent understaffing. He also has a painful health condition, spinal arthritis, that he says is worsened by his inability to take breaks on the job.
“Healthcare is 25 percent of my paycheck, and I am still paying out of pocket,” he said. He said that he has struggled with chronic pain for about four years.
“I’d like to sit down every two hours, like a normal person. I’m lucky to get 10 minutes,” he said. ‘The whole time I’m on break I just feel guilty I’m having the other workers fend for themselves.”
DJ said that Starbucks has been unwilling to negotiate a contract with the union. “Starbucks is just saying the words ‘good faith,’ he said. “It’s like in The Office when Michael declares bankruptcy. You can’t just say “bankruptcy.””
DJ said that the Starbucks on Maple used to have 10 to 12 workers come in each day, but that has been cut down to about seven to nine workers. He said that the store averages $4,000 per day in sales and is open 14 hours daily.
“There are five managers working inside today. But they wanted to schedule for six hours with only two people.” DJ said.
According to Billie Nyx, a former Starbucks worker who led the union drive before being fired from the store, the union’s lawyer believes negotiations will begin soon. Starbucks Maple Street is represented by Starbucks Workers United, which is a part of the Workers United Union and the SEIU.
Nyx, who was at the picket line Wednesday, claims the firing was retaliatory and has a pending case to be reinstated at Starbucks.
Despite the reported pushback from the corporate office, Nyx said that they have no regrets about organizing.
“I still don’t regret anything I did and I’d do it all again if given the chance,” Nyx said. “Anything to make a better workplace for my friends.”
Reporter Jesse Baum can be reached at email@example.com.