Militant Journalism

First unionized Starbucks in Pittsburgh goes on strike

From June 24 to June 26, the workers at the first-ever unionized Starbucks in Pittsburgh had their first strike in response to retaliatory cuts to their hours. Outside the Bloomfield Starbucks on Liberty Avenue, workers picketed all weekend. Joining them were members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, as well as supportive members of the neighborhood, many of whom are fellow service workers who understand the power of collective action. 

Beginning in February 2022, the unionized Bloomfield Starbucks employees were hit with a massive 30 percent cut in their hours. According to a worker who did not give their name at the Bloomfield Starbucks, “We think the hour cuts were punitive/retaliatory because they hit right around the time of our election.”

Even though the workers are still negotiating their contract — around which Starbucks is refusing to come to the table — this was still a clear violation of their rights as union workers, as bosses must negotiate these kinds of changes with the workers before cutting hours. This also puts these workers in a precarious financial position.

One Starbucks worker, Leah, described to Liberation News just how painful it was suddenly to not have enough money. “Some of us have had to get two, three, four jobs. One of us had to donate plasma. People say ‘just get a new job.’ Well, I don’t want a new job. I love my job, and one job should be enough.” 

“Yeah, I had to donate plasma,” another striking worker, Kyle, confirmed. “I also did UberEATS. When we complained to the manager, they said we should file for temporary unemployment. How can you say something like that and think you’re the good guy?” 

Starbucks made $20 billion in 2021, a 28 percent increase from the previous year.

Jake Welsh, another union member, observed, “It feels like the cruelty is the point,” as he recounted a suggestion from the manager in response to the decreased hours and loss of benefits. “They told me to try to take some hours from my fellow workers, who I consider to be friends and family.” He speculated that the best way for the bosses to union-bust is to pit workers against each other.

Starbucks workers in Pittsburgh. Liberation photo.
Starbucks workers in Pittsburgh. Liberation photo

In spite of this, the Bloomfield workers have a strong sense of camaraderie as a union and they chose to unite. “We formed a group chat, and asked everyone, ‘Who can afford to give up hours? Who needs hours?’ and we would volunteer shifts for each other.” 

Kyle said, “We are only asking for the bare minimum.” Bloomfield Starbucks workers are demanding negotiations in good faith for restored hours and benefits, and a ceasing of illegal union-busting practices. This includes rehiring the fired workforce in the Heritage District of Seattle, who were recently fired. Seattle Starbucks workers were also on the picket line the same weekend as Pittsburgh Starbucks workers. 

As another worker Hailey put it, the solution is simple: “Just pay people better, and treat them with respect.” 

In the face of these corporate attempts to divide their union, these workers remain committed to one another. Chriski, another worker, said that bosses should remember that their vote to unionize was unanimous: “Everyone who voted, voted yes. The beauty of this store is that they cannot divide us. We have become each other’s second family.” 

According to the workers, the estimated cost to the company of the strike over this weekend amounted to $14,000. This may seem like a drop in the bucket to a company that made $20 billion last year, but Starbucks is so threatened by organized labor that they brought back former CEO and notorious union-buster Howard Schultz in early April. Since then, Starbucks has declared war on workers with a prolonged all-out effort to close stores, slash hours, give anti-union “training” sessions, fire union organizers and engage in an endless array of other retaliatory methods. Starbucks has even threatened to deny abortion and transgender healthcare to unionized workers. 

Without the labor power of his workers, Schultz would have nothing. His wealth is a product of decades of exploitation of the working class. He has tirelessly worked to suppress organized labor all for a little extra profit, but the workers have proven that when the people are united they cannot be defeated. The militant workers at Bloomfields Starbucks are showing him exactly what their labor is worth. 

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