Starbucks workers strike at south Minneapolis store, join national wave of labor protests  

By: - July 31, 2022 9:17 am

Kasey Copeland, a Starbucks barista and union organizer, urges cars to honk their support of their two-day strike at the Starbucks at 47th Street and Cedar Avenue on July 31, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Starbucks workers at a south Minneapolis store are on strike, joining workers in Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia and other cities who are ramping up pressure as they seek to negotiate union contracts.

Customers who pulled up to the drive-thru on Sunday morning at 4712 Cedar Avenue were told there’d be no coffee today or tomorrow but other Starbucks locations were still open as usual.

Workers say the surprise two-day strike — a first for a Minnesota Starbucks — is in protest over management failing to negotiate with them over a first contract and changing the store’s hours without consulting the union.

“It’s obviously just them trying to push us around and see if they can get away with it,” said barista Emily Mahoney in between handing out leaflets about the strike to customers.

A spokesperson for Starbucks shared a statement on behalf of the company saying it respects its employees “right to engage in any legally protected activity or protest without retaliation.”

“We are grateful for each partner who continues to work, and we always do our best to listen to the concerns of all our partners,” the statement said.

Workers at the Cedar Avenue store were the second to unionize in the state, winning an election in May to be represented by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

Since then, workers say the company hasn’t provided them the information they’ve requested on wages and discipline to begin bargaining, and the two parties haven’t met for formal negotiations.

More than 200 Starbucks stores in 32 states have voted to unionize since the first store in Buffalo, N.Y. unionized last December, inspiring the wave of union drives across the country. More than a hundred more stores have also filed petitions seeking elections with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees private sector unions.

In Minnesota, four stores have unionized, with three more stores — in Edina, Roseville and Rochester — awaiting elections. Two stores voted against unionizing, but Workers United is challenging both elections.

No store anywhere in the country has yet ratified a first contract, and Starbucks faces widespread allegations of failing to negotiate and retaliating against workers as it tries to stop the spread of labor organizing at its roughly 9,000 stores nationwide.

Earlier this month, an NLRB judge ordered Starbucks to cease and desist from interfering with workers trying to unionize and ordered the company to post notices informing employees of their right to collective action.

The company faces more than 200 complaints for unfair labor violations, including the one by workers at the south Minneapolis store.

Kasey Copeland, a barista and trainer at the Cedar Avenue Starbucks, says since she and her colleagues unionized the company has cut workers’ hours, meaning fewer workers on the floor during busy shifts.

Then, the store manager told them they would be opening a half hour later and closing a half hour later. While the change sounds small, U.S. labor law forbids companies from unilaterally changing working conditions with unionized employees, and the Starbucks workers see it as company managers taunting them.

For Copeland and other morning shift employees, who have largely been leading the unionization effort, the change means about four fewer hours of pay each week.

“If Starbucks is listening, we won’t be pushed around,” Copeland said. “We’re being treated unfairly and we’re not going to take it.”

Customers took the strike largely in stride, with some voicing or honking their support. Sonia Srichai said said she walks to the store every Sunday morning for coffee but doesn’t mind finding somewhere else to go this weekend.

“I’m totally supportive of the employees,” she said.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.