When Kat Howard was a high school student working at a Starbucks in Riverton, she was satisfied with what she earned.
But now, trying to support herself by working full-time at a Starbucks in Salt Lake City as she attends the University of Utah, the salary isn’t enough to cover her expenses and the inconsistent hours aren’t manageable.
Howard had to take a second job — and last week, she and her co-workers joined the Red Cup Rebellion, part of a national worker strike at more than 100 stores across the country on the day of major customer traffic when Starbucks gave away free reusable red cups.
Organizers say Starbucks isn’t cooperating in working out a union contract. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding the protest, but has denied any wrongdoing.
Here are three things that Utah Starbucks workers pursuing union representation are asking consumers to consider doing during the holiday season to support them.
1. Boycott Starbucks and sign the No Contract, No Coffee pledge
The Starbucks Workers Union has an online pledge where supporters can sign up to say that they won’t buy from Starbucks until the company agrees to a union contract. The company typically sees a surge in revenue during the holidays and the boycott is meant to put pressure on management to negotiate.
Howard, a barista at the Starbucks store at 421 E. 400 South, was inspired to join the Starbucks Union committee by the first few locations to unionize in Buffalo, beginning in late 2021.
Working conditions at Starbucks and similar customer service jobs are often given less attention as they’re viewed as temporary jobs, Howard said, but that isn’t the case for many employees.
Kit Grob, a shift supervisor and union organizer at the 4th and 4th location, has worked for Starbucks for three and a half years. Workers hope to get better pay, benefits and more consistent schedules, Grob said, but the main goal of last week’s protest was to “have a voice in our conditions at work.”
It was also about labor violations alleged by workers, she said, including their contention that Starbucks is refusing to bargain in good faith.
”My store was one of the few stores that actually got as far as getting a bargaining meeting set up” in early November, Grob said.
“And the Starbucks lawyers walked in and walked out of the room within 40 seconds,” she said.
Grob said she isn’t aware of any plans for a new meeting date.
The lawyers said they were concerned that they might be recorded by participants who were speaking over Zoom, she said.
A.J. Jones, an executive vice president of communications for Starbucks, told NPR that “nothing could be further from the truth” than allegations that Starbucks representatives walked out on or delayed union meetings.
Jones said union organizers wanted to record the conversations, which he said would violate the National Labor Relations Act. Organizers said they only were interested in having remote attendees at the meetings.
Other allegations of labor violations being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board include “taking down posters, intimidating workers and illegally firing employees for union organizing,” Grob said.
And more than 80 Starbucks employees have accused the company of firing them illegally for union organizing, Grob said. Some have received back pay as the result of NLRB investigations; the NLRB also has alleged the Starbucks illegally withheld raises from unionized employees, the Washington Post reported.
Company CEO Howard Schultz announced that a slate of raises and benefits announced in May would only go to non-unionized locations, NPR reported. Starbucks argues it is appropriately limiting the raises to nonunion stores.
In Utah, Cottonwood Heights Starbucks location voted to unionize in June. A union leader there, Jacob Lawson, is one of the workers who has complained to the NLRB, arguing he was fired illegally.
Referring to Lawson, the company told The Salt Lake Tribune, “This individual is no longer with Starbucks for violation of company policies — including defacement of company property and behaviors inconsistent with our mission and values.”
2. Talk to your local Starbucks workers
In his experience, Lawson said, Starbucks is “really good at making people afraid.” So for customers who don’t want to boycott yet support unionization, “the community can help support us by educating your baristas — tell them to not be afraid of the union,” he said.
“If you go into Starbucks, talk to the employees,” Grob agreed, suggesting letting those who haven’t unionized know that you would support that decision.
Howard said she’s been surprised to learn “how many people really just didn’t know what a union was.”
Since her Starbucks has unionized, she said, workers at other Salt Lake City area companies have reached out to her and other store workers to ask about how to organize their own unions.
The No Contract, No Coffee pledge is also a means of signing up for notifications about “rallies, pickets, and other events in my area,” the webpage says, allowing supporters to show up in support of Starbucks workers.
During Thursday’s protest, some supporters held signs or brought food to Salt Lake City protestors.
Grob said, as far as she knows, no one at the 4th and 4th store is earning what would be considered a living wage for Salt Lake City.
Howard would like to see Starbucks pay a higher rate when stores are routinely understaffed, which puts more pressure on fewer workers, she said.
”Starbucks gets to keep all that money that they saved” from paying fewer workers, but people are working “twice as hard,” she said.
In the time Grob has worked at Starbucks, she said, “there have been so many changes, and a lot of them are not very well thought out.” Company leaders, she said, “don’t really understand what it is like to be like on the ground floor.”
Leto Sapunar is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.