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Unionized Starbucks workers in Louisville participate in nationwide strike

072922_UNION_Starbucks Workers United_by J. Tyler Franklin
Starbucks baristas across the country have taken up organizing efforts over the past year.

Customers wanting coffee from the Starbucks location on Factory Lane were met with protestors and a closed store due to a strike Thursday morning.

The Louisville store is one of more than 200 Starbucks locations where workers have voted to unionize over the past year. They joined more than 100 other locations for the nationwide strike on Thursday, called the “Red Cup Rebellion” because it coincides with the company’s Red Cup Day promotion.

“We’re showing the corporation that we’re coordinated, we’re strong, we’re powerful and that if they try and f---- with us that we’re going to shut them down,” said Fern Potter, a shift supervisor and lead organizer at the Factory Lane Starbucks.

According to Starbucks Workers United leaders, the company has failed to negotiate with the union “in good faith.”

Potter said, initially, representatives from the company postponed meetings and made it difficult for union members to attend.

“We actually sat down at the table, they refused to negotiate with us in any capacity. We couldn’t even get our proposals out,” Fern said. “We just tried to start reading our proposals out, get anything, and they just left the room.”

Union workers began organizing the strike following this meeting. They purposefully chose Nov. 17, Starbucks’ Red Cup Day.

“It’s an extremely busy day. And that’s why we’re shutting it down, because we wanted to hit Starbucks where it really hurt,” Potter said.

On Red Cup Day, customers are given a free holiday red cup and half-priced drinks. Striking workers gave out their own version of the red cups, with the Starbucks Workers United logo and a Grinch hand holding a tree ornament.

Potter said striking workers received support from passersby, with only a few folks upset that they were unable to get their morning coffee.

“We’ve got a lot of community support, in addition to support from our workers,” Potter said.

The Factory Lane Starbucks was the first location in Kentucky to form a union. Workers at a Clarksville store followed, becoming the first in Indiana to do so.

Potter said unions are needed to fight on behalf of workers and ensure they aren’t exploited.

“You need to have an organization that's acting to advocate for the worker everywhere, otherwise the corporations are going to try and take advantage and exploit you at every turn,” Potter said.

Starbucks Workers United members have a wide range of demands depending on the location, including more inclusive dress code options, better wages and improved benefits.

Union workers across the country have accused Starbucks of participating in union-busting efforts. Potter said they have seen this at the Factory Lane location.

“We were supposed to get raises. We ended up getting them a month after we were supposed to, just because when we unionized they decided we were going to get them a month later,” Potter said.

Potter said certain benefits, like gender-affirming health care coverage, have been threatened. They said more strikes are possible if the company doesn’t change course.

“If Starbucks is refusing to bargain with us, we’re going to have more strikes, more often and for longer,” Potter said. “If people want us to not be striking, then they need to encourage the company to begin bargaining with us in good faith and stop violating federal labor law.”

In an emailed statement, a Starbucks spokesperson told WFPL News the company has negotiated “in good faith” with the union and blamed its members for any problems during the process.

The Starbucks spokesperson said the company was aware of the strike and would respect employees' right to “engage in lawful protest activity.”

This story was updated to include a statement from Starbucks.

Breya Jones is the Breaking News Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.