How Strike Support Helps Unionizing Starbucks Workers

How Strike Support Helps Unionizing Starbucks Workers

On Friday July 1, 2022, Starbucks workers at a store located at 5964 N Ridge Ave, in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, went on a two day strike in order to fight against understaffing and hours cuts at their store, in addition to filing an unfair labor practices complaint. Workers at the store took the lead in planning and executing the strike, with material strike support for Workers United regional organizers, and reached out to Democratic Socialists of America members that had previously helped with labor solidarity work. But for their strike to succeed, they would need support.

Jason Flynn, an organizer with DSA’s Restaurant Organizing Project, was one of many Chicago DSA members who worked alongside 48th Ward IPO to mobilize community members and make sure Starbucks workers had support every hour of their picket. As a result of their outreach work, and boosts from Chicago Teachers Union members and supportive City Council members and candidates, 53 people signed up to picket at the store. Over 60 people attended over the course of the weekend.


When we got out to the picket line early Friday morning, Starbucks workers were wary. How would managers react? Would they try to staff and open the store? Would they retaliate, threaten to fire people, call the cops?

Workers couldn’t know for sure if they’d land safely on their feet until they took the leap. But workers at the Clark and Ridge store have worked together for years — many since the location opened — and have developed a deep trust that they could work together through any issues that arose. 

As it turned out, Starbucks managers had limited options. Local stores have already been pressed to cut service dramatically in situations where one or two workers have to stay home due to COVID. There weren’t any extra employees available to staff a store where all of the employees were out on strike, especially during a busy holiday weekend. 

The company’s inability to contest the Rogers Park strike was a massive boon to the workers, and supporters. As more and more community members strode in, the atmosphere turned celebratory. Folks waved signs, danced, chanted, and made new friends while waves of drivers laid on their horns in support of the strike. 

It was an incredibly joyous atmosphere, and down time at the picket was a constant opportunity for people to talk through related community work. Throughout the strike long-time organizers and union leaders stopped by to commend the workers, and to share insights on subjects like the importance of labor power to establishing universal reproductive care, the role of police in stifling organizing, differences in public vs private sector labor, and the need for tenants’ movements as an engine to fight for community demands in addition to labor demands.  

Strike support was such a fluid and productive space for people to build relationships with each other that, if maintained, could be the spark for future power building work, in a similar way to workers’ workplace relationships. 

Since the strike, conditions at the store have improved, and workers haven’t experienced retaliation. That said, this isn’t a time to rest on the laurels of one successful action. 

This was an important strength test for the Starbucks union, locally. Workers at dozens of locations around the country have already gone on strike, and, in cities like Seattle, they’ve been able to coordinate and generate enough community support to escalate to shutting down multiple locations across the city. 

Building the organization, support, and militancy to coordinate city-wide, regional, and national work stoppages is going to be incredibly important for workers at unionized stores, at stores whose elections are still open, and at stores where workers haven’t announced their organizing intentions publicly. 

The union campaign is still in a very precarious situation. Even with the impressive speed at which organizers have been able to win elections, and even though Workers United has been able to train incoming shop leaders to be regional organizing mentors, workers face the threat of their stores being rebranded, moved, or shut down entirely. 

Starbucks shuts down hundreds of stores every year in the regular course of doing business. According to the Washington Post, 424 locations were shut down in the 2021 fiscal year — that’s more stores than are currently unionized or have active campaigns. And on July 11th of this year, the company announced it was shutting down 16 locations, many of which are currently unionized or have scheduled elections. This is an escalation on the company’s part from firing leaders in organizing committees around the country.

Threats of retaliation are, in part, why community support is so important to the union campaign at this moment. Community members can’t start organizing drives or win campaigns. That power is solely in the workers’ hands. However, supportive community members can sign on to the union campaign’s “No Contract, No Coffee” pledge, and push community organizations to form action committees to support the union’s “Adopt-a-store” initiative.

These steps increase the leverage unionized workers have as they grow their movement and become more sure-footed. A supportive environment will also be important if (really, when) workers’ organizations don’t have a supportive National Labor Relations Board, and need to use more confrontational tactics to win recognition and contracts.


Chicago DSA stands in solidarity with Starbucks Workers United and the ongoing unionization efforts across the country.