Starbucks workers at more than 150 stores plan to strike starting Friday, alleging that workers at dozens of locations were restricted in putting up Pride decorations, a claim the company has denied.
“Starbucks is scared of the power that their queer partners hold, and they should be,” Moe Mills, a shift supervisor from Richmond Heights, Mo., said in a statement.
But Starbucks spokeswoman Rachel Wall accused the union of spreading false information, calling the strike a “tactic used to seemingly divide our partners,” in an emailed statement to The Washington Post.
“We apologize to our customers who may experience an inconvenience,” she added.
It’s the latest culture war flare-up to play out in the workplace, as a range of companies come under increased scrutiny from workers and consumers alike over their perceived commitment, or lack thereof, to polarizing social issues.
Last week, the union accused regional-level Starbucks leaders and store managers of blocking workers from putting up Pride flags and other decor honoring LGBTQ+ rights. The organization cited workers saying they had been prohibited or limited in putting up decorations, as well as texts and a memo appearing to show managers saying there had been regional guidance to make stores adhere to a more “consistent experience.” The communications could not be independently verified by The Post.
The union says it is not alleging that such actions were a result of a “corporate top-down national policy,” but added in a statement to The Post that it is “very hard to believe that corporate was unaware” of the actions because the purported instances of it happening were so widespread.
“We find this weird restriction — or in some stores, downright refusal — to have Pride decorations to fly in the face of Starbucks values,” said Parker Anthony Davis, a 21-year-old barista in San Antonio.
“That is very concerning in this current climate — and it makes me worried,” added Davis, who identifies as asexual. “I want to make sure that I am working for a company that is going to push these values forward and going to protect people that are simply human.”
Davis said employees at his store did not run into any trouble putting up Pride decor, but he said it will likely strike on Thursday to stand with the stores that union says had faced restrictions.
Starbucks has vehemently denied the allegations, saying that for decades it has supported LGBTQ+ workers through policies such as “gender transition guidelines” and adding gender reassignment surgery to the company’s health benefits. Moreover, Wall said that the company has long had a policy of empowering “partner celebrations and recognition of a variety of heritage months.”
Asked whether the store managers and regional leaders could have been acting independently from corporate guidance, Wall responded: “As for in-store displays, partners and store leadership continue to find ways to authentically celebrate with their diverse communities year-round within our safety standards, signage policies and dress code.”
“All reported partner concerns on this matter are being taken seriously and are routed for leadership review and to be addressed,” she added in an email.
The union also alleges the Pride decor episodes add to a running list of retaliation against workers, including blocking workers’ access to benefits and the firing of an employee.
Starbucks and the workers fighting to unionize have been locked in a battle — one that pushed company’s founder and former chief executive, Howard Schultz, to testify about his company’s alleged union busting before a congressional panel in March. Schultz denied being involved in any decisions to terminate or discipline union organizers, and claimed he had not taken part in closing unionized stores.
That testimony came only weeks after a federal administrative law judge found that Starbucks committed “egregious and widespread” violations of federal labor law through efforts to halt union campaigns.
Starbucks shares were down more than 2 percent in afternoon trading.
In recent months, brands from Target to Anheuser-Busch have endured backlash in stores and online to polarizing social issues. Tension ramped up in April, when Anheuser-Busch faced criticism and boycotts over its Bud Light partnership with transgender actress Dylan Mulvaney.
Late May, in the lead-up to Pride month, Target pulled back some LGBTQ+ merchandise and promotional materials from storefronts, citing worries about worker safety.