Starbucks Union Announces Worker Strike Over Pride Decor Controversy

After reports surfaced that Starbucks managers at stores across the U.S. removed decorations celebrating and affirming support for Pride Month, the Starbucks Workers United (SWU) union has announced a general strike in response. In an email sent to Tasting Table, SWU announced Strike with Pride, which is set to start the week of June 26 and includes over 3,000 workers at more than 150 stores across the country.

Beyond being an affront to the central themes of acceptance and visibility that are part of Pride Month, SWU claims that the actions taken by Starbucks managers are part of a larger effort to marginalize and intimidate workers when many are pushing for union representation and to codify their basic rights. "This is the latest in Starbucks's retaliation against workers, which includes threatening workers' access to existing benefits, denying new benefits to union stores, firing worker leaders like Lexi Rizzo, and other illegal attempts to dissuade partners from organizing," SWU said in a press release sent to Tasting Table.

The National Labor Relations Board, a federal body overseeing labor disputes, has also accused Starbucks of failing to "bargain in good faith" with unions. This stems from a refusal to negotiate with 21 Starbucks stores in the Pacific Northwest.

Workers feel let down in moment of need

According to Moe Mills, a Starbucks shift supervisor from Richmond Mills, Missouri who was quoted in the SWU press release, the coffee chain's actions come at a time when LGBTQIA+ people need support. "Starbucks is scared of the power that their queer partners hold, and they should be," notes Mills. "Their choice to align themselves with other corporations that have withdrawn their 'support' of the queer community in the time we need it most shows that they are not the inclusive company they promote themselves to be."

Earlier this month, Starbucks workers reported that Pride Month decorations were either taken down or never allowed to be displayed. Reasons given ranged from concern over safety issues, such as employees having to climb ladders to put up decorations, to a broader desire for homogenous decor across Starbucks locations. SWU provided videos as well as a text thread as evidence for its claims. 

In a statement, Starbucks denied the allegations, saying that it had not enacted any policy change regarding Pride Month decorations and celebrations. It further stated that it had not heard of any "company-operated" stores banning Pride decorations.

Starbucks points to history of support

Starbucks issued a statement to Tasting Table underscoring what it says is a long-standing commitment to supporting LGBTQIA+ individuals and Pride Month. "Pride Month is one of the many ways we support and celebrate our LGBTQIA2+ partners and the community," it says. "For nearly four decades, we've relied on our own partners to inform the commitments and actions we take as a company including the Starbucks Pride Network."

This support ranges from a 1988 decision to extend full health benefits to eligible employees, including coverage for same-sex domestic partnerships, to its 2007 issuance of "Workplace Gender Transition Guidelines to support partners who are transgender or considering transitioning." In 2019, Starbucks updated its family expansion benefits to fit the needs of same-gender couples seeking to start a family.

The company also issued a statement online accusing SWU of spreading false information regarding the company's "inclusive culture and benefits." The statement explains that store leaders are free to celebrate all heritage months, including Pride, so long as decorating falls within the "framework of our established store safety guidelines" and that partners at company-owned stores are welcome to work with management to celebrate diversity within "the framework of our established operational standards, Siren's Eye appearance guidelines and partner dress code policy."

SWU says that dozens more stores are voting on strike resolutions and the total number of striking locations may top 200.