Strike at Starbucks: Coffee Giant Clashes With Union Over LGBTQ+ Pride Flags and Decor Removal

Dozens of Starbucks U.S. locations were picketed on Sunday over allegations by the baristas’ union that managers at several stores removed Pride flags and decor. On Friday, the union announced the strike, which is purported to be joined by 3,000 workers at over 150 Starbucks over the next week, making it the largest national strike against Starbucks ever staged.


Near the route of the city’s Pride parade, workers picketed outside a lower Manhattan, New York store on Sunday, chanting, “New York is a union town! On Strike! Shut it down!” Several customers refused to cross the picket line to patronize the establishment. Maggie McKeon, a would-be customer heading into the location, decided to turn around after hearing about the strike, saying: “If people are going to be affected by this, then I’m with them, not the company.”

A Starbucks spokesperson responded on Sunday, denying the allegations that the company had removed any Pride decor, saying:

We unwaveringly support the LGBTQIA2+ community. It would be inaccurate to report that Starbucks stores are banning any decorations as there has been no change to company policy on this matter. We remain deeply concerned by false information being spread about our inclusive store environments, our company culture, and the benefits we offer our partners.

Contrary to Starbucks’ claims, in recent weeks, videos circulated on social media showing Pride flags and decorations being removed at stores.


In a June 14 letter to Workers United International President Lynne Fox, the company called the allegation that they removed Pride flags and decorations “blatant fear-mongering.” On the same date, Starbucks released a memo to store managers to clarify “misinformation,” which states that it gives autonomy to “local leaders” to “find ways to authentically celebrate year-round.”

Pro-unionist outlets claim that the decision to refrain from decorating stores was made by “higher-ups.” In Oklahoma City, a manager’s note to staff written on June 5 revealed that the decision was made last year at a regional level. The note said:

I know there has been some concerns around not decorating for Pride this year. The decision was made last year on a regional level to create consistency from store to store.

Instead, the note suggested that workers could decorate a chalkboard outside the store. In mid-May, the manager instructed a shift supervisor to dispose of Pride decorations, which had been stowed away in the back of the store from the previous year. Shortly thereafter, the manager confirmed to the union’s lawyer that Pride celebrations were scrapped for 2023. According to a union leader, in a June 7 phone call, the Regional Director of Operations for Area 120 (which includes the Oklahoma City store) said that he had decided to axe Pride decorations after “consulting with upper leadership.”


In the letter to Fox, Starbucks also refuted the past accusations made by the Workers United union that the company had threatened union organizers, including many queer or trans-identifying people, with a reduction in scheduled hours that would leave them unable to qualify for health insurance that covers gender reassignment surgery and other related procedures. With intense union organizing efforts in the past year, an increasing number of employees reported experiencing unpredictable schedules and having their hours reduced below the 20 hours per week required to qualify for insurance. Starbucks said they had not changed health coverage and denounced the charges calling them “false claims.”

Health insurance through Starbucks has covered sex change surgery since 2012. In 2018, it began covering procedures that other health plans consider cosmetic surgeries, including breast implants, hair transplants, and facial feminization. In 1988, it began offering health insurance for same-sex domestic partners, which was exceedingly rare at the time. Later, the coffee company became involved in a legal battle at the U.S. Supreme Court, lending support to the cause of gay marriage.

According to Jackie Zhou, a 21-year-old shift supervisor at the Astor Place store in lower Manhattan, the company’s socially progressive reputation isn’t holding water amid labor organizing, observing: “Once we decided to unionize, they were like, ‘We’ve had enough of this progressive stuff.'”


Sam Cornetta, a 23-year-old employee of the Farmingville, NY location, joined coworkers on strike at Astor Place, dismissing the company’s progressive virtue signaling as mere performance. Cornetta said: “They’ve used their claim to be a progressive, inclusive company to kind of attract those kinds of people. There’s a performative aspect.”

On Monday, the Fight for 15 campaign released a one-minute video featuring Zhou relaying the workers’ demands over a jazzy backtrack.

Since late 2022, Starbucks has engaged in negotiations with some of the more than 300 unionized U.S. locations, responding to the demands of pro-union baristas who seek more policies against alleged discrimination, among other proposals. As of now, none of the recently unionized cafes have reached an agreement with the company for a labor contract.

In November of 2022, a transgender employee, Arthur Pratt, was fired in what the union claims is retaliation for supporting the labor organizing at his Portland, Oregon store. The incident followed Starbucks’ previous social media post sharing Pratt’s rendition of their siren logo with rainbow hair on social media. In another art project this year, he made a poster ahead of Pride month condemning the company. It read:


You can’t say you’re pro-queer and be anti-union!

The union’s complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board is one of hundreds of similar allegations. In another incident raising questions of “How woke is too woke?” for Starbucks, a jury recently awarded a woman $25 million for being fired because she was white.

Read More:

Starbucks Fired Manager Because She Was White, Jury Awards Her $25 Million in Damages

Starbucks Fires Employee Who Started Company’s ‘Workers United’ Union


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