Thousands of Starbucks workers strike on Red Cup Day Hardcore Starbucks fans eagerly await the day the coffee company gives out limited-edition holiday cups. The union organizing Starbucks workers hope those same customers will help support their cause.

On Red Cup Day, thousands of Starbucks workers go on strike

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If you ventured out to a Starbucks today, it's possible that on your way to a chestnut praline latte, you might have come across a picket line. Members of Starbucks Workers United organized the group's largest single-day strike, and they timed it so it would fall on what's known as Red Cup Day, one of the busiest days of the year for the coffee giant. NPR's Vanessa Romo has more.

VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: Hardcore Starbucks fans have been waiting for Red Cup Day, the day of the year when the company hands out limited-edition holiday plastic drink containers, cued by this music.


ROMO: In some places, customers line up at the crack of dawn to get their hands on a collectible cup, making it one of the most profitable days on the calendar for Starbucks. Baristas like Josie Serrano are less enthused.

JOSIE SERRANO: It's always a very, very insane day. It just seems like every year, we never have the staffing available for it. It feels like we're worked to the bone.

ROMO: Serrano has worked at Starbucks for about 4 1/2 years at a store in Long Beach, Calif., one of the 264 stores that have voted to unionize over the last year. And they're on strike today. They say the understaffing issue is just one of the reasons that Starbucks Workers United decided to launch the so-called Red Cup Rebellion, a national strike with more than 100 stores staging their own picket lines. More broadly, though, Serrano says the walkout is intended to get Starbucks to bargain with workers in good faith as the two sides try to hammer out new contracts.

SERRANO: It's been a really frustrating process because Starbucks has been doing everything it can to delay us getting our contracts.

ROMO: According to the union, the company has retaliated against union leaders, and Starbucks lawyers have walked out on bargaining sessions or made last-minute rescheduling requests that make it challenging for members to participate.

A J JONES: Nothing could be further from the truth.

ROMO: That's Starbucks' A.J. Jones, executive vice president of communications. He says actually, the company has probably been overly aggressive in trying to schedule bargaining sessions. The problem with recent talk breakdowns, he says, is that union leaders at the table want to record or broadcast negotiation talks, a legal no-no.

JONES: Under the National Labor Relations Act, you are not allowed to record bargaining sessions. And that actually is a clear violation of the act because of what's being discussed.

ROMO: On the picket line, union members are hoping to win over customers who might not be thrilled with the strike if it interferes with their chance to get a precious cup. So they're offering an even more exclusive commemorative item, a union-designed red cup with the Starbucks Workers United logo on the front. Serrano says this is a new kind of labor movement.




UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I wanted some coffee, but guess what? We ain't having no coffee this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: We don't need it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thanks, everybody.


SERRANO: I feel like this movement has been very fun. It's been very positive. And we just really want to be able to share that with our supporters, too. You know, like, this is a party.

ROMO: As of now, there are about 60 new bargaining sessions scheduled with stores across the country. Vanessa Romo, NPR News.


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