The strikes coincide with Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day, when the company gives free reusable cups to customers.

Starbucks workers in more than 100 U.S. stores went on strike Thursday in their largest labor strike since a campaign to unify the company’s stores began late last year.

The strikes coincide with Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day, when the company hands out free reusable cups to customers who order a holiday drink. Workers say it’s often one of the busiest days of the year.

Employees say they are looking for better pay, more consistent schedules and more staff in busy stores. According to Starbucks Workers United, the group organizing the effort, stores in 25 states planned to participate in the labor drive. Strikers hand out their own red cups with union logos.

Starbucks, which opposes the union effort, said it was aware of the strikes and respected its employees’ right to protest legally. The Seattle company noted that the protests are taking place in a small number of the company’s 9,000 locations in the US.

“We remain committed to all partners and will continue to work side-by-side to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone,” the company said in a statement Thursday.

Some workers planned to pick all day, while others will do shorter strikes. The union said the aim is to close stores during the strikes, noting that the company usually struggles to staff during Red Cup Day because it is so busy.

Willow Montana, a shift manager at a Starbucks store in Brighton, Massachusetts, was planning to strike because Starbucks has not yet begun negotiations with the store despite a successful union vote in April.

“If the company won’t negotiate in good faith, why should we come to work where we’re understaffed, underpaid, and overworked?” Montana said.

Others, including Michelle Eisen, a union organizer at one of the first stores to organize in Buffalo, New York, said workers are angry that Starbucks has promised higher wages and benefits to non-union stores. Starbucks says it follows the law and cannot give unionized stores wage increases without bargaining.

Controversial negotiations

At least 257 Starbucks stores have voted to unite since late last year, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Fifty-seven stores held votes where workers chose not to join a union.

Starbucks and the union have begun contract talks in 53 stores, with 13 additional sessions planned, Starbucks Workers United said. No agreements have been made so far.

The process has been controversial. Earlier this week, an NLRB regional director filed suit against Starbucks in federal court, saying the company violated labor law when it fired a union organizer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The regional director asked the court to order Starbucks to reinstate the employee and stop interfering with the nationwide union campaign.

It was the fourth time the NLRB had asked a federal court to intervene. In August, a federal judge ruled that Starbucks had to reinstate seven union organizers fired in Memphis, Tennessee. A similar case in Buffalo has yet to be decided, while a federal judge ruled against the NLRB in a case in Phoenix, Arizona.

Meanwhile, Starbucks has asked the NLRB to temporarily suspend all union elections at its U.S. stores, citing allegations from a board employee that regional officials did not coordinate well with union organizers. A decision in that case is pending.



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