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Business & Economy

Central Ohio Starbucks employees go on strike amid labor negotiations with unionized stores

A sign reading "No Contract No Coffee" is held by a Starbucks employee in Columbus.
George Shillcock
Starbucks employees shut down 4 stores on Nov. 16, 2023 in the Columbus area to go on strike and protest labor practices at the coffee chain.

Workers at at least four Columbus-area Starbucks went on strike Thursday during one of the company's busiest days of the year.

About five workers at the Starbucks at 1784 North High Street, across from the Ohio Union near The Ohio State University's campus, began holding up signs stating "No Contract No Coffee" and "Starbucks workers demand a fair contract today" stood outside in the early hours of the morning.

In the window of the shop, three signs were posted. One had a simple message saying the store was temporarily closed, one provided a QR code for people to get refunds on online orders and another was posted by Starbucks Workers United declaring "We're on strike."

Shift supervisor Reagan Behne said she's worked at the Starbucks location for two years and the store has been unionized for about a year. Behne said along with this store, two others in the same Starbucks district were closed Thursday.

"We want to work with (Starbucks). We aren't against them. We just want to make a better work environment for everybody. And in turn, like they claim that they want to treat us well and they have good ethics and want to follow their missions and values, but when they union bust and kind of infringe on our rights, I think that completely goes against their mission and values," Behne said.

Starbucks Workers United called for this "Red Cup Rebellion" because Starbucks is running an annual promotion when it gives out free red holiday cups to customers.

Behne said the strike is demanding better wages and benefits but also that the company not cut back on labor hours when those other improvements are made.

"They give out these raises and it looks really good on paper, but then they turn around and cut our labor hours. So in reality, we're not making any more. It just turns out that we're more understaffed on the floor. And that's why wait times go up higher. And it's just an unpleasant work experience," Behne said.

In a statement sent to WOSU Thursday, Starbucks confirmed four total stores of the 30 total locations in the Columbus-area were closed. These did not include the Starbucks location just up the street at the corner of North High Street and Lane Avenue, where Behne and her co-workers eventually took their protest.

"We are aware that Workers United has publicized a day of action at a small subset of our U.S. stores today. We remain committed to working with all partners, side-by-side, to elevate the everyday worker, and we hope that Workers United’s priorities will shift to include the shared success of our partners and working to negotiate contracts for those they represent," the statement said.

Starbucks said it has invited the union to bargain contracts for the stores they represent, but the union hasn't agreed to meet for five months.

Kelly Boddy, a senior at Ohio State, was one of the would-be customers who attempted to buy Starbucks at the location near the Ohio Union. She said she often goes before class to get an iced coffee, but has been cutting back recently.

"I think (the strike) is good. Honestly, when I saw that they were closed on the app, I was a little shocked. But also, whenever there's like a big day for Starbucks, the Starbucks specifically is like overloaded with people. And I tend to avoid it for that reason," Boddy said.

Boddy said she will probably still go to this Starbucks when they are open in the future.

Behne said she was directing people who tried to get coffee to other local coffee shops, but said some just went up the street to the nearby Starbucks locations inside Target or at North High Street and Lane Avenue.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.