Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Workers at six Pittsburgh Starbucks strike, demanding better wages and guaranteed shifts

A sign outside of a Starbucks coffee shop.
Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA
Starbucks workers at six locations across Pittsburgh, including the Bloomfield location on Liberty Avenue, went on strike Thursday. Employees say they want better wages, guaranteed shifts and fair disciplinary procedures.

Starbucks workers at six locations across Pittsburgh went on strike Thursday as part of a nationwide strike of employees at more than 100 stores, disrupting Red Cup Day, one of the company’s most profitable promotional events.

But striking workers at the Bloomfield location had their own red cups to give out, featuring the hand of Dr. Seuss's the Grinch holding an ornament with the Starbucks Workers United logo. The union represents members at the 11 unionized locations in Pittsburgh and more than 264 stores across the country.

Jacob Welsh, a shift supervisor at the Bloomfield store, said staff there met last week with company representatives to bargain a union contract for his location.

But according to Welsh, the company walked out after only a few minutes.

“It's an unfair labor practice to bargain in bad faith. They showed up for bargaining and then walked out [of] the room and never came back,” Welsh said. “So, we're on strike.”

The strike is in response to the company’s refusal to bargain with unions nationwide, according to flyers posted outside the Bloomfield store. Starbucks Workers United told NPR that Starbucks lawyers have repeatedly walked out on bargaining sessions or made last-minute rescheduling requests that make it difficult for members to participate.

Starbucks workers strike outside the store on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield on Nov. 17, 2022.
Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA
Starbucks workers strike outside the store on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield on Nov. 17.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Bloomfield bargaining session. Executives with the company, however, told NPR they dispute the allegations, stating they had provided Starbucks Workers United with ample notice.

Welsh and other members of Starbucks Workers United say the strike is a way to force executives back to the bargaining table, where they will demand better wages, guaranteed shifts and improved health and safety practices.

Welsh said Pittsburgh unions also want a fair disciplinary process — one with a mandatory grievance procedure that ensures the company cannot fire or discipline employees without reason.

James Greene, who attended demonstrations for Thursday’s strike, said he was fired from the location in Wilkins Township in retaliation for supporting the store’s efforts to unionize and bringing issues he had noticed to the negotiations.

“I brought up safety concerns about racial safety, like racism here from customers and as well as like gender, LGBTQ safety, as well as the minors that work at our store,” Greene said. “I'm a shift supervisor so their safety is my responsibility.”

Greene said his manager then told him he needed to increase his hours, or else he would be fired. He previously reduced his hours at the store after coming back from medical leave.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Want more stories about economics and business? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you Pittsburgh's top news, every weekday morning.

“So they just fired me, so now they’re just one person down, and that doesn’t make any sense,” Greene added. “If you need me to work more, getting rid of me, it seems like you're just shooting yourself in the foot.”

Welsh with the Bloomfield location said his store has also been strapped for workers, resulting in longer waits for customers.

The store was the global chain’s first Pennsylvania location to vote to form a union.

Welsh said rather than take away their red cups, the strike is intended to improve conditions for Starbucks customers, too.

“We want to make their experience better when they go into the store because we want them to come in and see like happy, less-stressed baristas,” Welsh continued. “We want to be able to make their coffee quickly and still also have the time to like talk with them about their day because we think that's part of the Starbucks experience.”

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.