Red Cup Day is one of the busiest days of the year for Starbucks: it is the one day of the year when customers can receive a free, limited-edition reusable cup with the purchase of any holiday or fall beverage. However, Ithacans trying to get their red cup at the Ithaca Commons location this year were met with something else — a Starbucks worker’s strike.
Joining over a hundred stores across the country, the Ithaca Commons Starbucks workers held a day-long strike on Thursday, calling on Starbucks Corporate to come to the bargaining table as national union efforts continue to grow.
“Starbucks has been refusing to bargain with us in good faith,” said Nadia Vitek ’22, who has been working at Starbucks in Ithaca for over a year, transferring to the Commons location after the closure of the College Avenue location in June.
“This is where our power is the strongest — withholding our labor, and hitting them where it hurts, which is their profit,” Vitek said.
The downtown Ithaca location voted to unionize in April, joining the two other Starbucks locations in the city to make Ithaca the first city to unionize all the franchise’s stores. However, according to employees, Starbucks Corporate is delaying the negotiation of a contract.
“The thing that really pushed us to actually unionize here in Ithaca was the way that they dealt with COVID,” said Bek Maclean, who has been working at Starbucks since 2016.
“At first they were dealing with it pretty well and shutting down the lobbies and everything, but then they opened everything up, didn’t require masks, didn’t require anything, and they took away our COVID pay, they took away all of the benefits that go with it, even though it is still an ongoing thing,” Maclean said.
Since unionizing, employees claim that Starbucks Corporate has engaged in union busting tactics to discourage workers.
Starbucks workers cited a series of unfair write-ups and firings in recent months. According to Maclean, workers have been written up for not smiling enough and being as little as a minute late to their shift. Just two days ago, Maclean’s sister, who worked for Starbucks for four years and never received prior disciplinary action, was terminated from the South Meadow Starbucks location for neglecting to verify the COVID-19 status of employees.
Employees also cited short staffing issues as compounding onto the union busting tactics.
“The worst thing that we’re dealing with is understaffing,” Vitek said. “It’s really bad and it’s to the point where one or two callouts will shut our store down for the day, and our hours have been super inconsistent.”
The downtown Ithaca Starbucks is only open from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., a significant reduction in hours from previous standards, according to Vitek. Vitek also stated that the store aims to eventually go back to being open the whole day, but the location does not have the staffing for that currently.
Around 15 Starbucks employees and union supporters attended the strike, chanting “What’s disgusting? Union busting,” “Who calls the shots? We call the shots” and the holiday-themed: “Jingle bells, power smells, unions all the way, oh what fun it is to strike on this Red Cup Day.” Honks from passing cars in solidarity were heard throughout the strike, dubbed the “Red Cup Rebellion” by Starbucks Workers United.
Also at the rally were supporters from the People’s Organizing Collective Cornell, a student organization that supports campaigns for workers’ rights, and the Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America.
“I see a contract as the main goal [of the strike], but also I hope that this spreads more awareness to people in the community about union busting in general, because I feel like today union busting is more subtle, and it’s not really talked about,” said Kassidy Slaughter ’24, a member of POCC. “I feel like this cause will hopefully show people that you can do something and make really significant change where people come together and that getting out and just showing solidarity is super important and creates a really great effect.”
Other community members came out to demand better working conditions and wages.
“Starbucks workers here, like all workers, are oppressed with horrible working conditions, low wages and rising cost of living,” said Ian Schlon from the IDSA. “They have been doing what they are supposed to be doing, which is unionizing, and now they’re being punished for it by the company.”
Starbucks workers across the United States hope that the strike will lead to contract negotiations at a corporate level. Should this happen, workers are hopeful that working conditions will improve.
“We planned as a whole nation to do a Red Cup Day strike because it’s the busiest day of the year for a lot of stores, and it is a lot of a solidarity-type thing,” Maclean said. “We have 111 stores all together striking today, and we just want to send a message that we can shut shit down — and we are.”