Employees at numerous Starbucks stores launched a walkout during the coffee chain’s Red Cup Day event, advocating for improved staffing and schedules, as reported by Workers United on social media. This protest unfolded on a day when Starbucks traditionally distributes free red-colored, reusable, holiday-themed cups to customers.

Starbucks responded by stating that its U.S. stores remained “open,” with only “a few dozen stores with some partners (on) strike.” However, the majority of these stores were operational, serving customers.

Around a dozen workers picketed outside the Starbucks at Astor Place, located on New York University’s campus, chanting slogans like “no contract, no coffee.” Despite the protest, the store continued to serve NYU staff and students.

Red Cup Day historically attracts a significant influx of customers, with data from Placer.ai indicating a 94% surge in visits to U.S. Starbucks stores on the same day last year compared to the daily average.

Workers United, representing over 9,000 Starbucks employees at approximately 360 U.S. stores, described the event as one of the most challenging due to understaffing, leading to long wait times and frustrated customers. Workers demanded higher pay and increased staffing levels.

Starbucks has faced criticism for its policy of not allowing customers to tip at some locations, impacting workers’ income. The company recently announced a minimum 3% hourly pay increase for U.S. retail workers starting in 2024, which was met with discontent from employees, considering Starbucks’ strong financial performance. Less than 3% of the company’s U.S. company-owned stores are currently unionized.

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