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Baristas from Starbucks locations around Penn's campus picketed outside the Starbucks at 39th and Walnut streets, causing the store to close early on Nov. 16.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Baristas from Starbucks locations around Penn's campus joined thousands of Starbucks employees across 200 locations to walk out on Nov. 16 in protest of the company's alleged labor law violations.

Roughly 40 Starbucks workers picketed outside the Starbucks at 39th and Walnut streets, leading to the shutdown of the store for the day. Some of the picketers were employees from other locations, including 34th and Walnut and Penn Medicine, striking in solidarity and helping with the push to unionize. 

Several picketers told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the employees at 39th and Walnut streets planned to file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday, which would begin the process of unionization. 

Nov. 16 was "Red Cup Day," an annual Starbucks tradition where customers get free reusable red cups with their purchases. According to Silvia Baldwin, a barista at the 34th and Walnut streets location which also was temporarily closed in the afternoon of Nov. 16, picketers chose this date intentionally because it is one of the biggest sales days of the year. 

“We are striking at hundreds of locations across the country right now, showing that we are getting bigger and bigger," Baldwin said. "We are ramping up pressure on the company and trying to get them to come to the bargaining table and bargain a fair contract with us — which is what they have to do, according to the law.”

Baldwin also said that Starbucks has allegedly violated labor laws hundreds of times, adding that whenever there was motion to meet at the bargaining table, Starbucks representatives either left early or would switch dates at the last minute to confuse workers. 

De Rivera, a barista at the 39th and Walnut streets location, told the DP at Starbucks brought in workers from out of state to fill vacancies left by the strike. 

“[Starbucks] keeps telling people that we are understaffed and that their labor budget doesn't hire more people,” Rivera said. “But they flew in people from Maryland and they’re staffing them and they’re keeping them in hotels so they can work here.”

Rivera previously was a barista at a Starbucks in New Jersey, but moved to the 39th and Walnut street location because of housing insecurity. However, Rivera told the DP that after the 39th and Walnut streets workers started discussing the possibility of unionizing, Starbucks has been quietly union-busting in small amounts. For instance, Rivera and his co-workers are experiencing a reduction in hours to the point that Rivera said he is looking into picking up a second job to afford rent. 

Another barista at the Penn Med location, Devon Moore, was present at the strike. Moore has been active with the union at Penn Med and is helping and supporting the unionization efforts at the 39th and Walnut streets location. Moore said that Starbucks managers across various locations have been threatening disciplinary action against workers wearing union shirts and pins, despite them having the legal right to do so. 

“They outwardly deny what is within our rights and they try to intimidate us to sign forms or threaten disciplinary action,” Moore said. “If there is a union presence at any location or business, it is more than likely for a reason. These strikes are not just to cause senseless mayhem. These workers do not want to inconvenience but are fighting on your behalf to offer a better Starbucks experience.” 

Thursday's protest is the most recent instance in a wave of organized labor efforts by Starbucks employees across the country, including successful unionization at the 34th and Walnut and Penn Med locations in 2022.

Last March, employees at the 34th and Walnut streets Starbucks location also participated in a nationwide strike.

In a statement to the DP, Starbucks wrote “we have nearly 10,000 stores open right now delighting our customers with the joy of Red Cup Day. Currently, there are fewer than 100 stores where some partners have chosen to participate in protest activities, but the majority of those stores are open and serving customers.” 

They continued to say that “we understand that these promotional days change store patterns and traffic, and that’s why our retail leaders have the flexibility to build and adjust staffing schedules to reflect the unique and dynamic needs of each store — balancing store resources and expected customer demand to ensure partners are on the floor when they're needed most.”

Rivera expressed concern that the picket lines and unionization efforts could incite backlash against protesting employees, making working conditions and environment worse going forward. 

“After today, this picket line is going to make working there for the workers long term even harder,” Rivera said. “Stand with us, empathize with us, and see us. There are tons of opportunities for community support, and it starts at this picket."