Starbucks Workers United Announces Cross-Country Bus Tour To Promote Union Efforts

This article has been updated to include a statement from Starbucks.

Not since Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters has such an iconic team hit the open road in pursuit of a common goal. Starbucks employees have been fighting for a contract since the first store successfully unionized in Buffalo, NY in 2021, and now they say they're tired of waiting. On July 10, Starbucks Workers United took to Twitter to announce the newest chapter in the ongoing unionization saga: a four-week road trip across the country. "We're hitting the road! Union partners from all over the country are going on a nationwide bus tour to let Starbucks know it's time for a contract!" reads the Twitter post along with #nocontractnocoffee. The Union is Calling Bus Tour 2023 started in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN where Congresswoman Betty McCollum appeared at the rally.

Per a press release sent to Tasting Table, the unionizing workers will be traveling in two coach buses covered in custom "The Union is Calling" wraps. The tour is scheduled to hit 13 cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Knoxville, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Eugene, Portland, and Seattle.

What can supporters expect? Per the release, "Each stop will include organizing events, worker-led actions, press events, and various activities to call on members of Starbucks' Board of Directors to uphold Starbucks values and respect workers' rights."

The breaking point after an eventful month

The past few weeks have been particularly eventful for corporate offices and unionized locations alike. This bus trip was motivated by corporate Starbucks demanding that workers take down LGBTQIA+ Pride decorations in several stores last month. Just last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered Starbucks to reopen its Ithaca, NY store, which was ruled to be unlawfully closed as a retaliation tactic against employees voting to unionize. In the press release, Michelle Eisen, national Starbucks Workers United leader, said, "If Starbucks won't come to the table, then we're going to come to them. It's time this company learns that union-busting is unacceptable and our allies and customers are not going to accept it."

To date, the company has received over 570 charges of unfair labor practices and unlawful union-busting tactics. Last week, the NLRB sued Starbucks for unlawfully terminating 33 vocal pro-union employees in Seattle. The NLRB has found Starbucks guilty of nearly 200 federal labor law violations. Meanwhile, 320 stores around the country have successfully voted to unionize.

Starbucks responds to Union bus tour

In a statement sent to Tasting Table, Starbucks commented on the Starbucks Workers United bus tour. The coffee chain called for the union to "demonstrate the same commitment to bargaining as they do to rallies, and now a 13-city bus tour," claiming, "Even though [management has] attempted to schedule bargaining for hundreds of stores, Workers United has only met Starbucks at the table to progress negotiations for 11 stores."

The statement goes on to assert, "Partners voted for bargaining not buses. Perhaps that's why partners at a dozen stores across the U.S. have already filed petitions to decertify Workers United as their bargaining representative."

Starbucks Workers United calls on customers to picket

Starbucks Workers United has created a bus tour website so supporters can follow along as the team travels across the country, which includes a map of scheduled stops and the group's official statement regarding why workers are riding and hoping to secure the union contract. The union's nine "core demands" include the right to organize, a strong foundation of rights (seniority rights, grievance procedures, and just cause employment), worker safety, fair wages, healthcare, no reductions, consistent schedules, expanded leave of absence and personal time off, and immediate access to the withheld benefits corporate has only been granting to non-union employees.

In tandem with the bus tour, Starbucks Workers United is taking the effort one step further by breaking the fourth wall and introducing a third party to the bargaining table: the customers. The Starbucks union is asking customers to organize picket lines outside non-union stores. The proposed demonstration is called the "national 'Adopt a Store' day of action," and will take place on August 7. This would up the ante as a more aggressive strategy than tried before. But, the image of a bus full of workers riding for change is certainly rousing. These efforts carry larger-scale implications of community support and the difference a labor union can make for workers in other industries as the power returns to the hands of the laborers in a big way — one mile at a time.