Union wants Starbucks to suspend digital sales during promotions

Starbucks Workers United said it will push that demand with a job action during Red Cup Day, one of the coffee chain's major traffic boosters.
The union has predicted massive turnouts for previous job actions, with far less participation materializing. | Photo: Shutterstock

The union trying to organize Starbucks is pressing management to limit customers’ ordering options during promotional campaigns because of the increased traffic’s toll on staff.

Among the demands Starbucks Workers United (SWU) said it will sound loudly during a job action planned for Thursday is an agreement from the chain to turn off mobile ordering channels while it’s touting a special reason for patrons to indulge.  

The group contends that the surge in orders during promotional events tends to overwhelm baristas because staffing isn’t increased accordingly.  The workers not only have to work faster but also deal with customers who are irate about having to wait longer due to the higher order volume, the union says.

If Starbucks complied, the impact on sales would be significant. Mobile orders accounted for about 31% of Starbucks’ sales during the fourth quarter ended Oct. 1, according to the chain.

SWU says it has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) about Starbucks’ unwillingness to negotiate on promotional-event staffing levels.

To date, the union has been recognized as the representative of 9,000 baristas working in 363 Starbucks units, according to the NLRB, the federal agency that monitors union elections. 

The demand that digital channels be shut down during promotional events was sounded Wednesday, on the eve of what’s traditionally been one of Starbucks’ most successful sales-driving events, Red Cup Day. On Thursday, customers who buy one of the brand’s limited-time holiday drinks are provided with one of the brand’s reusable Red Cups.

The SWU says the baristas it represents will walk off their jobs Thursday in what it’s calling Red Cup Rebellion Day. The union predicts that it will be the largest labor action yet taken against Starbucks. Yet similar projections about past walk-outs have grossly exceeded the actual level of participation, judging from a drive-by of both unionized and non-organized units.

The labor group predicts that hundreds of stores will be shut down because of the action by union members. It also asserts that members of the powerful United Brotherhood of Teamsters will show their support for the walkout by refusing to service units with a picket line in place.

Starbucks has not backed down. Its website states that any customer who buys a holiday drink tomorrow will be entitled to a Red Cup while supplies last, regardless of how they ordered.

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