The labor union for Starbucks employees launched a historic strike on Thursday, producing the largest work stoppage in the coffee chain’s five-decade history.

The one-day strike was scheduled to begin on “Red Cup Day,” an annual promotion centered around the release of Starbucks’ holiday season-themed reusable cups.

The Starbucks Workers United website notes that Red Cup Day is the company’s “biggest sales event of the season,” and “also one of the most infamously hard, understaffed days for the baristas that work them.” It invites all Starbucks baristas and “shift supervisors” to join the “Red Cup Rebellion” and walk out with unionized workers.

Starbucks Workers United told ABC News that hundreds of employees who staged walk-outs Thursday are demanding better conditions at their workplaces as well as higher pay, benefits, and staffing levels.

The union has taken over more than 360 stores, representing a total of 9,000 or more service workers since 2021.

According to its website, the Starbucks union demands:

  • the right for other stores to unionize
  • a “strong foundation of rights” including a provision that amounts to tenure
  • a base wage of $20 for all baristas and $25.40 for shift supervisors, with an increase depending on the area in which the store is located
  • annual raises of 5 percent in addition to cost-of-living increases
  • 401(k) retirement plans; the banning of any kind of reductions including wages and benefits
  • High quality 100% employee paid healthcare with co-pays capped at $10, dental, vision, and life insurance, as well as improvement to mental health service access
  • Full-time status for those who work an average of 32 hours per week
  • A “fair process to obtain” overtime and vacation “without favoritism”
  • Guaranteed faster accrual of vacation time
  • More sick days and more holidays

Among other things. These items are not only being demanded for economic reasons but also to fight “sexual and racial harassment.”

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Workers are reportedly on strike in Cleveland, New York City, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. In New York, union representatives said they have workers planning to strike at six stores across the city and three on Long Island.

Last year, the union also held a strike on Red Cup Day. But this year far more stores have been organized ahead of time.

Starbucks has said it prefers to deal with employment matters through direct relationships with workers rather than through the mediation of a union. In October, a judge ruled that Starbucks founder and former CEO Howard Schultz violated federal law by “threatening” a union-supporting barista by telling them to “go work for another company.”

Starbucks sued Starbucks Workers United in October for using its logo while voicing support for Palestine, claiming the union damaged the company’s reputation and enraged hundreds of consumers. The union counter-sued Starbucks for defaming them as supporters of terrorism, insisting on its right to use the company logo and name.

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