Starbucks Workers Stage ‘Red Cup Day’ Strike: Union Efforts for First Contract Amid Corporate Resistance

Starbucks Workers' 'Red Cup Rebellion': Uniting for Contracts Amid Strikes
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The Long-Standing Battle for Worker Rights at Starbucks

In a significant demonstration of worker activism, thousands of Starbucks employees across hundreds of stores initiated a strike on Thursday. This protest addressed the prolonged absence of a first contract despite a rigorous two-year organizing endeavor. Termed the ‘Red Cup Rebellion,’ this strike aimed for a singular-day impact, distinguishing itself from recent notable strikes by major unions such as the United Auto Workers, SAG-AFTRA, and the Writers Guild of America.

Starbucks workers hold signs as they participate in a strike organized by Starbucks Workers United during the company’s Red Cup Day Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, at the company’s first Reserve roastery in Seattle.

While the strike’s short duration set it apart, it underscored the determined efforts of the Starbucks Workers United union to secure their inaugural contract. This event not only highlights the persistence of union activism but also marks a resurgence of such movements in American workplaces, reminiscent of earlier eras.

Union Struggles and Starbucks’ Resistance

The union’s journey began in December 2021 when they clinched their initial representation victory at a Buffalo, New York store. Subsequently, they triumphed in 368 out of 454 elections at other stores, amassing over 200,000 supporters. Despite this, negotiations have failed to yield contracts for the 9,000+ union members spread across these stores.

This strike, synchronized with Starbucks’ ‘Red Cup Day’ promotion, previously witnessed stores remaining operational by employing workers from nearby non-unionized outlets and managers. However, the union views this event as a crucial platform to communicate their cause to sympathetic Starbucks customers, even if the stores remain open.

Moe Mills, an employee at a unionized Starbucks in St. Louis, emphasized the significance of customer engagement during these strikes. They stated, “Looping [customers] in on what’s going on is wildly important,” highlighting the impact of customer support on Starbucks’ stance.

Stalemate in Negotiations

Despite the National Labor Relations Board certifying 363 stores as union-represented, negotiations between the company and the union have stagnated. Both parties accuse the other of obstructing progress towards a contract. Starbucks maintains its commitment to collaborative negotiations, urging the union to align their goals with the company’s success. Conversely, the union asserts that Starbucks impedes contract negotiations, evident in their recent unfair labor practice charge over refusal to discuss promotion days.

Implications and Future Prospects

These limited-duration strikes, echoing recent union movements at entities like Kaiser Permanente, signify a pivotal strategy for unions to assert their influence. While such actions haven’t secured a contract at Starbucks, they’ve proven effective in other scenarios, such as winning labor deals for tens of thousands of workers at Kaiser Permanente and Los Angeles schools.

The landscape of labor disputes is dynamic, with certain deals averting major work stoppages, like the agreements covering Teamsters at UPS and workers in Las Vegas casinos. However, some groups, including casino workers in Detroit and Michigan Blue Cross-Blue Shield employees, persist in their strikes.

Looking ahead, looming contract expirations for Boeing assembly line workers and East Coast dockworkers portend further labor negotiations in the coming year.


The Starbucks Workers United strike, despite its brevity, underscores the escalating battle between worker representation and corporate resistance. It symbolizes the resurging fervor for union activism in American workplaces, promising continued efforts to secure worker rights amid intricate corporate negotiations.

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