Allen Park Starbucks staff join national strike to demand union rights, better conditions

100 Starbucks locations striking on March 22

Starbucks employees strike at Allen Park, Michigan location on March 22, 2023. Pictured (from left to right): Gloria Pridemore, employee; Matthew Kain, organizer; Valerie Saenz, employee; Hanan Navi, employee. (Cassidy Johncox/WDIV)

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – A busy Starbucks location on the border of Allen Park and Dearborn Heights is striking Wednesday with 99 other stores nationwide to demand union rights and better working conditions.

Workers at the Starbucks on West Outer Drive at Southfield Road were standing outside the store early Wednesday morning, holding signs that read “people over profit,” “we demand more staffing,” and “no contract no coffee.” The shop is often buzzing on weekday mornings with baristas fulfilling order after order, as the crowd inside grows bigger and bigger. But on March 22, the lights were off and the store was empty.

The morning crew tasked with opening the store instead stood outside, peacefully defying their roles while holding their demands on poster boards. The Allen Park location is one of 100 Starbucks stores in the U.S. that is striking Wednesday on what some employees called “Howard Schultz Day,” named after the company’s former CEO. Starbucks says the strikes were planned to coincide with the company’s annual shareholders meeting.

Rather than give the attention to Schultz, the strike is an effort to put focus on what employees are demanding from him and the company, said Allen Park Starbucks worker Gloria Pridemore. In Michigan, at least four other stores are also joining in on the strike, including three stores in Ann Arbor and one in Mount Pleasant.

A flyer handed out by the striking staff claims that Starbucks has cut the number of baristas scheduled to work each day, while also adding Doordash to their workload “without any increase in pay or even baristas.”

“It’s clear we’re not a priority in the decisions being made about our workplace, so we’re demanding a seat at the table and a say in our workplace,” the flyer reads.

Schultz, who served as chairman and CEO of Starbucks off-and-on for years since the 80s, was serving as interim CEO since 2022 before abruptly stepping down on Monday. In his place, the company has named Laxman Narasimhan as their new CEO.

Schultz and the company are accused of union busting as Starbucks stores nationwide attempt to unionize.

Related: Starbucks’ Schultz declines to appear before Senate panel

Starbucks Workers United has been organizing the effort across the U.S., and that effort that has been met with resistance. Since Starbucks Workers United’s first win in Buffalo, New York in 2021, hundreds of U.S. stores have voted to unionize -- but serious claims against Starbucks have also come from the Buffalo area.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered Starbucks to stop infringing on workers’ rights after finding that the company violated labor laws “hundreds of times” during the unionization campaign in Buffalo. Administrative Law Judge Michael Rosas, of the National Labor Relations Board, said Starbucks exhibited “egregious and widespread misconduct,” and found that the company had threatened employees, spied on them and more strictly enforced dress codes and other policies.

The company denies any wrongdoing on their part.

In response to the union-busting accusations, Starbucks officials say the company has “fully honored the process laid out by the (National Labor Relations Board) and remains fully committed to our partners’ right to organize and engage in lawful labor activities. Starbucks trains managers that no partner will be disciplined for engaging in lawful union activity and that there will be no tolerance for any unlawful anti-union behavior. Starbucks is also defending the right of its partners to cast secret ballots through in-person, NLRB-supervised voting.”

The Starbucks in Allen Park has a union election scheduled for April 5.

Across the nation, Starbucks workers are calling for better pay, improved training, more consistent schedules and more. Starbucks says, however, that it already offers some of the best benefits in the industry. The company also says it believes its stores function best when working directly with employees.

The rush to organize Starbucks has slowed in recent months, but labor organizers are hopeful that 2023 is the year workers will negotiate a union contract. Bargaining has been at a standstill, however, for most unionized locations.

Workers are blaming Starbucks for the drawn out contract negotiations. While previously being allowed to hold meetings via Zoom, the company has since disallowed the virtual meetings and is requesting that meetings be held in person, according to the union. The company claims union members violated rules by failing to share Zoom links or name remote participants.

Starbucks says any bargaining delays are caused by the union’s alleged failure to respond when the company offers bargaining dates. Starbucks said in a statement that the union is encouraged to “live up to their obligations by responding to our proposed sessions and meeting us in-person to move the good faith bargaining process forward.”

Organizers say Starbucks has pushed back against unionization efforts by implementing anti-union tactics like firing pro-union workers and closing unionized stores, promising better wages and benefits at non-union stores, among other things. The pushback is also coming from some employees, though, with dozens of stores voting not to unionize since 2021.

So far, about 3% of Starbucks’ 9,000 company-owned U.S. locations have voted to unionize. Starbucks Workers United is continuing its push, and staff in Allen Park say there is a lot of support for unionization among employees -- excluding management.

The Starbucks Worker United flyer handed out at the strike encourages customers to tell Starbucks that “understaffing and union-busting is wrong,” in addition to saying: “Starbucks has made it clear: they don’t care about the stress they put us under, or the quality of what you pay more and more money for.”

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.