Nearly the entire staff for the small Starbucks store on John T Reid Parkway in Scottsboro greeted hundreds of patrons on Sunday differently than they normally do. On the first Sunday that the popular Pumpkin Spice Latte would have been served, they told their customers that they were on strike and the store was closed. This was the first strike at a Starbucks in Alabama, and The Valley Labor Report broke the news on Twitter the day before.
Photo by Spencer Loback for The Valley Labor Report
Workers striking their employers is a tactic that has been around nearly as long as laboring itself. Strikes won carpenters an 8 hour day as far back as 1890, auto workers got a pension after striking in 1949, and in 2023 a credible strike threat won UPS drivers a $2.75/hour raise and the right to a workweek no longer than 5 days. While strikes are new to Starbucks, workers there have been making use of the tactic fairly often since an organizing wave has flowed over the company. Since December of 2021, nearly 9,000 workers at over 300 stores have unionized with Starbucks Workers United, and there have been dozens of strikes.
The staff in Scottsboro - members of the union - stated in their letter to management that they were striking over health and safety concerns. Specifically, they cite “leaky pipes” which has already caused multiple workers to slip and fall “even with non-slip shoes on.” Workers told The Valley Labor Report that this has been an issue ever since the store opened, and that despite repeated attempts by workers to have management fix the issue, nothing has been done.
Photo by Emma Ellison, Scottsboro Starbucks Workers United
In their letter they also mention “inconsistent scheduling.” They are not alone in facing this issue - according to a 2021 survey of service industry workers: 64% of workers received less than two weeks’ notice of their forthcoming work schedule, 57% experienced shift timing changes, including having one day or less notice of these changes, and 42% of workers had no input into the timing of their work schedules. Mckenna Clark, a worker at the Scottsboro Starbucks, said that management never makes a “schedule that makes sense for us.” She said that “the ones that want more hours get less, and the ones who want less get more… every day you come in at a different time so it makes it hard to get in any kind of routine.” Beyond the inconsistency, they also claim that when they are scheduled, they don’t have enough people on the floor. Carla Gonzalez, another worker at the Scottsboro store, spoke about the frustration of not having “enough people on the floor,” causing ticket times to increase.
They are requesting that Starbucks come to the bargaining table to negotiate over these issues and resolve them in a contract.
The workers report a generally positive reception from the public and their would-be patrons. Gonzales said she was “surprised with how much support we got.” She said that some folks even came back with supplies, including one woman who came back “to give us cookies.” She laughed when recounting that there were some members of the public who were unhappy, including some who would “scream at us to get a job.” She said they would just holler back: “Thanks, I got 2-3.”
Workers from other unions came out to support their strike as well: members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE), International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) made an appearance in person, and members of several other unions voiced their support for the Scottsboro workers on social media.
Clinton Ellison, a member of the IBEW who supports the Scottsboro Starbucks union, doesn’t think supporting them is that controversial: “Workers wanted to be treated fair, respected, and appreciated for all they do and sacrifice for the companies.” Jared Leggett, Vice President of IFPTE Local 27 which represents workers at the Marshall Space Flight Center said that it “doesn’t matter if we work on rocket ships or caffeinated beverages. It’s important we support each other.”
Photo from @SCTStarbucks (Scottsboro Alabama Starbucks Workers United on X/Twitter). 4 baristas on the left, with IFPTE Local 27 Vice President Jared Leggett on the right.
The ability to shut down the operations of a store - even for a day - is no small feat, especially for a union that only won their election by 1 vote. Workers say that since the election, they have been able to consolidate support for the union: “Since the vote… we have been able to inform and get more coworkers to be pro union,” said Gonzales, though she stressed that they are not “forcing anyone.” Clark estimates that support for the union is approximately 75% now: “Almost all the new hires are pro-union. It’s not too difficult to get people on our side when everything goes wrong at our store.” She said that she has “loved and hated working for Starbucks, but the union has given me hope for a positive change headed our way.”
Workers at the Starbucks in Scottsboro were the second to unionize in Alabama, following workers in Birmingham. The two stores remain the only unionized locations in the state. People interested in learning more about the union can go to sbworkersunited.org.