Starbucks workers in Madison join nationwide strike on Red Cup Day | business | Wbactive

Thursday is Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day, when throngs of coffee lovers line up to collect the year’s new plastic coffee mug. It’s one of the busiest days of the year for the coffee chain, but customers heading to Capitol Square or more than a hundred other Starbucks are likely to find the doors closed as workers at those stores go on strike for the day, which is what they say the company’s refusal to negotiate with its union.

“It’s not like they’re making a tough deal. It’s not like they’re just making a tough deal. They don’t want to make a deal at all,” said barista Evan McKenzie, a member of the downtown store’s bargaining committee.

“It’s against the law and doesn’t treat us as valuable members of their company. That’s why we’re holding back our work on Red Cup Day, a very high-profit, high-profile day to show that we’re extremely important to Starbucks’ business model and that we deserve a seat at the table.”

The 1 E. Main St. store voted to unionize in June, one of more than 230 locations that have unionized since last year. Workers United, the union that represents all or most of these businesses, has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices.

Zoom debate blocks negotiations

Negotiations between the Capitol Square deal negotiating committee and Starbucks management were scheduled to begin on November 1. The union selected a bargaining committee that includes workers from that store, union organizers and workers from other unionized Starbucks stores, a move the union said will keep agreements consistent across its stores. Workers who lived elsewhere would participate via Zoom, the committee planned.

But while the session was meant to last for hours, the parties only met briefly, and negotiations never began, McKenzie said.

Starbucks lawyers immediately delivered a typewritten letter, verified by the Cap Times, to the union’s bargaining committee, stating that the parties had agreed to a “meeting” and that Workers United had “unilaterally changed the agreed-upon “meeting” to a session, taking place would be broadcast virtually to others who are not physically present.”

Parties in contract negotiations have a legal right to refuse recording, the letter said. If the union were to use videoconferencing, the company could not be sure who was listening or whether the meeting would be recorded or broadcast, although the union had promised not to record the meeting or broadcast it to non-committee members.

“Once we receive assurance that Workers United is ready to proceed with our agreed face-to-face meeting — without virtual broadcast of negotiations to anyone else — we will continue our commitment to negotiate in good faith,” the letter concluded.

Of the dozens of bargaining sessions the company has scheduled with unionized stores in recent weeks, company officials never stayed in the room for more than 10 minutes, said Workers United organizer Hannah Fogarty. Still, the union is sticking to its plan to engage committee members via Zoom.

The union is allowed to choose who can attend its bargaining committee, Fogarty said, but by banning videoconferencing, the company is effectively locking down the many unionized workers who cannot afford to travel remotely or those who are immunocompromised and therefore at increased risk from COVID-19.

According to Fogarty, Starbucks has not objected to videoconferencing either during the hybrid bargaining sessions it held with the union early in the pandemic or during the vote counts that the NLRB practically conducts after a union election.

“COVID is still very prevalent, particularly in (certain) circles, and people who work in the service industry are still catching it,” Fogarty said. “Everyone does business through Zoom. It has not been a problem for anyone for the last three years and now they soon decide to be a problem and a security risk. That’s not the case.”

At each negotiation session, Fogarty said, workers were prepared to come up with the same non-economic proposals, although no proposals were ultimately put forward. Now, she said, workers at about 109 stores are presenting a united front on the picket line, striking over the company’s refusal to negotiate in good faith, as required by the federal labor code. Most of these shops have already gained union recognition through elections, while some have applied for pending elections.

Starbucks is represented by Littler Mendelson, which claims to be the largest law firm in the world dedicated solely to representing executives in employment and labor law matters. Labeled by critics as an anti-union company, it’s part of the $340 million “union avoidance” industry.

Neither Starbucks nor Littler Mendelson immediately responded to a request for comment.

Workers “send a message”

The strike will last through Thursday night, McKenzie said, with the aim of keeping the store from opening at all on what is usually a very busy day. “We’re sending a message to Starbucks that it’s important that they treat the negotiation process as something that moves their business forward,” McKenzie said.

The union has invited community groups to lead singing and activities, but the specific groups have not been confirmed. A press conference is planned for 12 noon

“This will be a party. It’s going to be cold, but we’ll make it through together as a community. And we hope that many from the community will come out to participate in this celebration and hopefully show that Madison is indeed… a union city and that we are all there for one another.”

Although three other Starbucks locations in Dane County filed union elections with the NLRB earlier this year, the Capitol Square store is the only one where the union won an election. Two of those stores later withdrew their candidacy and the third voted overwhelmingly against a union.

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