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August 1, 2022

Worcester Starbucks workers strike over corporate non-union benefits

Photo | Timothy Doyle Worcester East Central Street Starbucks location on Monday morning

Workers at the unionized Starbucks location in Worcester went on strike Monday, in protest over a suite of benefits the corporation is rolling out to non-unionized workers.

In addition to the Worcester strike, workers at the unionized Starbucks in Gardner will host a sip-in, where supporters of the union will buy coffee, supply cash tips, and remain in the store to support workers, according to a Monday press release from the union Greater Boston Starbucks Workers United.

The Worcester store at East Central Street was closed Monday morning when WBJ visited, and signs indicated that the employees were on strike. Other signs showed support for the workers from the Massachusetts Nurses Association union, who striked for 301 days in 2021 and 2022 over staffing at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester.

The Worcester employees plan to picket from 9 a.m. to noon daily until further notice. The sip-in will take place at Starbucks’ Gardner store on Monday between noon and 2 p.m, said union organizer Kylah Clay, in an email to WBJ.

Both stores voted to unionize in June. They are supported by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

The union is protesting a suite of benefits that are being rolled out for non-union Starbucks workers, a move the union sees as union-busting. 

Starbucks responded in a phone call and email on Monday by saying federal law requires benefits for unionized stores to go through the process of collective bargaining, and the company respects the union’s right to engage in any legally protected activity or protest without retaliation.

“In stores represented by a union, federal law requires good faith collective bargaining over all wages, benefits and working conditions. That means Starbucks cannot make promises or guarantees about any benefits. Even if we were to offer a certain benefit at the bargaining table, a union could decide to exchange it for something else. Simply put, it’s difficult to predict the outcome of negotiations and each store’s negotiation may look different. What we can say for sure, is that Starbucks will always bargain in good faith,” Starbucks corporate communications wrote in an email.

Bailey Fulton, an employee of the Starbucks at the East Central Street, remains unconvinced. Starbucks refers to its employees as partners.

“As a 16-year partner, there are many reasons I have stayed with Starbucks this long. I believe in what Starbucks says it wants to do for partners, and I also believe it has failed too many of us. Too many partners are unable to pay rent. Too many partners are afraid to speak up in the workplace. Too many partners would rather quit than deal with the treatment given to them by management. I'm striking to demand Starbucks stop union busting, stop their unfair labor practices, and treat partners with the spirit intended in its own stated mission and values,” Fulton said in the union’s press release.

The union said some anti-union managers have demonstrated racist and homophobic behavior in the workplace.

“I am striking because in a company that promotes the unconditional acceptance of diversity, ignorance and bigotry cannot be excused,” Worcester worker Imani Plant said in the union press release.

Starbucks corporate said it was not aware of specific allegations pertaining to the Worcester store, but categorically denies the company is anti-union and does not condone any sort of racism or homophobia.

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