“My neck, my back, fair wages, and a contract.”
11-year Starbucks employee Amanda Rivera was shouting over the passing traffic that was going north and south down Tara Blvd. Thursday afternoon. She and a dozen others, a mix of Starbucks employees and union supporters, marched in a small circle in front of the store as part of the “Red Cup Rebellion,” a series of national strikes for fair wages and contracts. “We are here because we voted in June 2022 to unionize and the company refused to negotiate with us,” Rivera said. “We just want a contract.”
The strikes took place on one of the most popular and busiest days in the Starbucks calendar: Red Cup Day. On this day Starbucks offers customers a red plastic cup with their fall drink orders. Rivera confirmed that Red Cup Days were a big deal within the company and to the many customers at her home store at Ansley Mall.
Thousands of employees (they refer to themselves as “partners”) at hundreds of locations across the country participated in the coordinated strikes. From Seattle to Boston to metro Atlanta, Starbucks customers at select locations that are fully unionized like the ones at Ansley Mall and in Jonesboro were having to go without their favorite drinks.
The closure of selected stores for the one-day strike could cost the company millions. In 2022, Starbucks reported $6 billion in overall U.S. revenue, according to data from the business revenue website businessmodelanalyst.com.
Derryl Rohlff has worked at the Ansley Mall store for five years and after starting at $9.15 she now makes $16.50 per hour. The problem is after five years she now makes just $1 more than new hires make at $15.50. She told The Atlanta Voice that she was on the picket line because she didn’t think that was fair.
“I love my job, but after being here this long I want more of a reason to stay,” she said.
Standing next to Rohlff, Tiana Bays, a college student that has worked at the Ansley Mall location for a little over a year, said she feels her coworker’s pain, if not personally, than spiritually.
“For me it’s about supporting my coworkers,” she said. “The hours are inconsistent and I just want better for everybody.”
A 26-year veteran server of Starbucks’ lattes and iced coffees, Logan Mathews walked the picket line in Jonesboro only weeks after being fired after joining the union. He was later rehired after all of the employees at the store walked out in solidarity, but the years of service to the company first in his native California, then Florida and then to Georgia, left him puzzled that he could be fired at all.
“We are here to spread the word that ever since we unionized it feels like they threw us into a sink-or-swim island,” Mathews said.
The chants from the small group, “This is what the union looks like,” continued as Debra Williams, an organizer with Workers United, held a son above her head and waved it towards cars moving in and out of the parking lot. Williams has been on the front lines of many strikes and feels this one is as legitimate a cause as any others she has worked on.
“I’m here because I was once in these worker’s shoes. We are all in this together,” Williams said. “I have to support my fellow workers because if we don’t stand for us who will?”
Asked if there were plans for additional strikes, Mathews said this was a major effort by the staffers that participated. Anything else will take place on a “store-to-store basis”, he said.
It will be weeks before there’s data on how much revenue Starbucks lost during the “Red Cup Rebellion”, but Rivera believes it won’t compare to what the employees of not only Starbucks but other food service workers will use if they didn’t stand up and speak their minds in this way.
“All work has value,” she said. “This is so much bigger than people understand. This is a referendum on how major companies treat their employees.”