Unionizing SC Starbucks employees strike, cite ‘discrimination’

Sunscreen is their warpaint and “No scab coffee” is one in every of their chants.

Unionizing employees on the Starbucks on Millwood Avenue in Columbia had been on their third day of a strike Friday as they demand higher working situations and fairer wages, and as they oppose what they allege is the corporate’s anti-union marketing campaign, in accordance with employees who held indicators and chanted by a megaphone alongside the business stretch of street Friday morning.

“It’s been hard and it’s been hot but we’re out here,” mentioned Sophie Ryan, 22, a 2021 University of South Carolina graduate and one of many placing employees who has been with the Millwood Starbucks because it opened somewhat greater than a 12 months in the past.

A spokesperson for Starbucks mentioned that allegations of discrimination and unequal advantages are “completely false.”

“We are enforcing our policies consistently and transparently,” the Starbucks spokesperson mentioned. “We hope to resolve these issues with our partners and hope to return as soon as possible.”

Friday, as placing employees stood within the blazing solar, neighborhood assist for the employees was apparent. Bystanders and neighborhood organizers got here to hitch the protest, introduced them water and supplied phrases of assist.

The strike started Wednesday, rather less than a month after employees on the retailer started the federal course of to unionize. The Millwood Starbucks employees union can be a part of the nationwide Workers United service trade employees union. The vote to unionized is predicted to be accomplished and tallied by the tip of May or early June.

Unionizing obtained the overwhelming majority of assist by the shop’s employees, and all the present staff of the shop are on strike, Ryan mentioned.

Starbucks administration has introduced in employees from different close by shops to work the drive-thru. The strike has triggered the cafe to be shuttered and out of doors seating to be packed away.

Since August, lots of of Starbucks areas within the United States have filed petitions with the federal authorities to be unionized, NPR reported. As of May 1, no less than 40 Starbucks have unionized, a “remarkable” quantity at a “stunning speed,” NPR mentioned.

The unionization effort on the Millwood Starbuck has additionally gone “incredibly fast,” Ryan mentioned.

Starbucks will say its shops are an incredible place to work, Ryan mentioned. “If they were great we wouldn’t be out here. And if they were great they could do better.”

‘Discrimination and retaliation’

Workers have confronted discrimination, Ryan mentioned. They need higher advantages, higher sick depart and extra autonomy over their hours and dealing situations. But a lot of their strike is about anti-union techniques that Starbucks’ administration has used for the reason that employees started union talks about three months in the past, in accordance with Ryan.

Since Starbucks administration realized that employees had been organizing, employees have been denied promotions, threatened with profit reductions and disciplinary write-ups, and confronted unfair reprimands, in accordance with the placing employees.

Ryan is taking a 12 months off earlier than going to graduate faculty and hoped to switch to a retailer in North Carolina to spend that 12 months close to household.

Ryan mentioned that switch was denied, however has little doubt it was a part of the “discrimination and retaliation” employees have confronted since starting their union drive. Ryan was informed by a supervisor that he wished to “stop the spread.”

Another worker who was up for a promotion was requested if she was an “instigator” after which didn’t get the promotion, in accordance with Ryan and different employees.

With sunscreen seen on her face, Sarah Grace shouted right into a megaphone “Union busting must go” and “Workers rights are human rights.”

The 20-year-old has labored with Starbucks for 2 years, she mentioned. She’s married and is the earnings supplier whereas her husband is at school. Starbucks must pay extra, she mentioned.

“We work hard . . . We love our jobs,” she mentioned. She needs to maintain working at Starbucks however the wages have to extend.

“I see the profit they come into,” she mentioned. “They have every ability to give us what we deserve.”

The typical picture of a union marketing campaign is that it pits employees in opposition to managers. But on the Millwood Starbucks one of many rallying calls was the unfair firing of a supervisor on Wednesday evening, the employees mentioned.

The supervisor supported the employees unionizing, in accordance with employees. Grace known as the supervisor “inspiring” and the rationale employees wished to make the shop one of the best it may very well be. The employees mentioned they had been certain that the supervisor was fired for supporting their union.

“She just wanted us to be treated fairly and unionization was a push for fair treatment,” Ryan mentioned.


A person in a black automotive drove by the placing employees Friday, slowed and honked as he put his fist out the window in assist.

“There’s our best friend,” one of many employees mentioned. “I love him.”

The employees have gotten to know a few of the automobiles of frequent honkers.

Other bystanders got here to the Starbucks, noticed the placing employees and the closed eating room and left. One man introduced the placing employees water and Popsicles. At least one one who didn’t work on the retailer joined the rally.

U.S. Senate candidate and long-time Columbia neighborhood organizer Catherine Fleming Bruce stopped by to encourage the employees to maintain up the strike and their unionization effort.

“Y’all need the protections,” Bruce, a Democrat, she informed the employees.

Community organizer Virginia Sanders, who has labored for years in Lower Richland, additionally arrived on the strike and supported the employees.

“People are out there who fully support you,” she informed the employees. “Don’t give up.”

Ryan mentioned that made them tear up.

“This whole process we’ve started is to keep this community we’ve started at this store,” Ryan mentioned. “We love our regulars, we love our customers, we love each other. We’re a great team.”

But the way in which employees are being unfairly handled since declaring that they had been unionizing is altering that optimistic surroundings.

“It’s just sad,” Ryan mentioned.

This story was initially revealed May 20, 2022 2:37 PM.

David Travis Bland received the SC Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for neighborhood journalism. He joined The State in 2018. He writes about crime, regulation enforcement and the prison justice system. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2010.
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