On the eve of Pride Weekend, one of the busiest times of the year for Capitol Hill businesses, unionized workers at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery on Pike Street organized a strike that will run until Sunday night — an expression of their frustration that management has so far not come to the bargaining table or recognized their union.
The demonstration is part of a larger strike taking place at 150 different Starbucks stores across the country. Starbucks Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks employees, called the strike, in part, because of accusations that Starbucks allegedly ordered some employees to take down Pride decorations. Starbucks denied the allegations in a statement to Eater last week.
The Roastery was the first store in the country to walk out, according to organizer and Starbucks employee Mari Cosgrove. “We went a little early, we couldn’t help ourselves,” she says.
On Thursday night, June 22, at 9 p.m. an hour before the store was scheduled to close, the Roastery staff staged a walkout to begin the strike. “It wasn’t angry. We didn’t march on anybody, we didn’t shout,” Trent Lytle, one of the employees who walked out, tells Eater Seattle. “One person said, ‘Hey, clock out and walk out if you’re joining us.’ Everybody just kind of put down what they were doing.”
Charlotte Granados, one of the store’s union organizers, says that they weren’t sure whether all of the employees on shift at the time would join, but Granados says they got 100 percent participation, meaning that the managers had to close the store by themselves.
“We had a lot of scheduling issues last night, so we were very short-staffed, it was a very busy day,” they tell Eater Seattle. “I think even the people who were on the fence about walking out decided to walk out with us.”
Thursday’s walkout was the second this year at the Roastery, which is one of the company’s most famous stores and the first one to be branded a Starbucks Reserve Roastery. The Starbucks website calls the 15,000-square-foot space “an immersive and dramatic expression of our passion for coffee” and “if Willy Wonka had built the ultimate coffee shop instead of a chocolate factory.” Customers can book tours and tasting experiences, and there’s an extensive food and drink menu, including beer, wine, and liquor.
It’s that bar that was one source of tension leading to the first walkout, in April. The bartenders who serve the cocktails, wine, and beer say that they are chronically understaffed and want to be able to receive credit card tips. The store hasn’t addressed either of those complaints.
Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull tells Eater Seattle that “new technology required to support tipping on credit and debit card transactions” rolled out to Starbucks stores on May 4, 2022, but because Roastery employees filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) before that, the company couldn’t legally install this tech in the Roastery. “We’re obligated by law to maintain a dynamic status quo in stores where there is organizing activity or bring it to the bargaining table before launching it in union represented stores.”
Starbucks management doesn’t appear in a hurry to get to the bargaining table. Though Roastery employees voted in a mail-in election to unionize in February 2022, management has not recognized the union and has taken the unusual step of challenging that election in courts. According to Trull, Starbucks believes that the vote violated the law at the time that governed when mail-in union elections were allowed — a standard relating to COVID-19 test positivity rates. The company has called for an in-person election instead. The results of that election at the Roastery were 38 votes in favor of unionizing and 27 against, out of a potential voter pool of 104.
This is just one of the many fronts in a long-running conflict between Starbucks and Starbucks Workers United. In many cases, union complaints have been adjudicated before the NLRB. Last week the company agreed to give back pay to union employees who were denied the chance to work at University of Washington football games, and this week the NLRB ruled that the company broke the law while dealing with unionized workers at the now-closed store on Broadway and Denny.
On Friday morning, Starbucks employees gathered outside of the Roastery, which had a sign on the door informing customers it was closed. They began to march in a circle holding pro-union signs and chanting the sort of new-wave union chants now common at protests. At one point they sang “Work sucks, I know” over and over again to the tune of Blink-182’s “All the Small Things.”
Trull says that the union “continues to spread false information about our benefits, policies and negotiation efforts.” He adds: “We apologize to our customers who may experience an inconvenience at these locations and encourage customers to find any of our more than 9,000 stores open nearby using our store locator available online or through the Starbucks mobile app.”
When people showed up to the Roastery, the striking workers courteously told them there were lots of other high-quality coffee shops on Capitol Hill, with one telling a couple that Victrola was right down the street.