A bearded man in an Avalanche shirt tugged at the doors of Starbucks #10857, on the corner of Broadway and Baseline in Boulder.
“We’re closed today,” half a dozen workers and union organizers told him in unison Monday. They held cardboard signs facing Baseline that said “Resist the Siren,” “Honk for our Rights,” and “Be Gay + Organize.”
“You might be closed, but I need to work,” the man responded. “So where can I get some coffee?”
The Brewing Market across the parking lot, employees suggested. It’s a union store. So is the Boulder Starbucks, which voted to unionize earlier this year. But just like nearly a dozen other Starbucks in the Front Range, contract negotiations have been unfruitful. The strikes were part of a 150-store protest organized by Starbucks Workers United over decorating for LGBTQ+ causes, the Associated Press reported. The Colorado stores that participated in protests Sunday and Monday included locations in Littleton, Superior and two in Denver.
Starbucks, however, said those decorations haven’t been banned.
“We want to be crystal clear — Starbucks has been and will continue to be at the forefront of supporting the LGBTQIA2+ community, and we will not waver in that commitment,” Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan said Monday in a statement to The Colorado Sun. “Despite today’s public commentary, there has been no change to any of our policies as it relates to our inclusive store environments, our company culture and the benefits we offer our partners. We continue to encourage our store leaders to celebrate with their communities including for U.S. Pride month in June, as we always have.”
There was more to the day’s strike than decorations, apparently. The protest was also to draw attention to the lack of progress in union contract negotiations, said Holden Sheftel, a shift supervisor and union organizer at the Starbucks in Boulder.
“A lot of the push is about getting Starbucks to sit down with us,” Sheftel said.
He said the national organizers who wrote the union’s demands listed put LGBTQ rights under the “health and safety” section of the contract. “We just want to make sure they are clear about their support even before it starts affecting their bottom line,” he said.
Widespread job openings and labor discontent during the pandemic led to efforts to organize workers nationwide. Unionization picked up last year, as frontline workers demanded better pay and schedules, plus safer workplace conditions. After grocery workers at King Soopers went on a nine-day strike in January 2022, negotiations sped up and the sides came to an agreement within days. Colorado’s union membership grew 7.8% last year to 178,000 members, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Nearly a dozen others in Colorado have also unionized or started the process, only to see some stores shuttered and in some cases, workers alleged retaliation for their efforts. Workers at another store, sometimes referred to as “the barn,” on East Colfax in Denver, had told The Sun early last year they just wanted “a seat at the table,” to keep employees safe. The store later added security cameras at the drive-thru.
In pretty much every case, though, Starbucks has said worker claims were not true. On Monday, the company accused Workers United of spreading false information about benefits, policies and negotiation efforts as “a tactic used to seemingly divide our partners and deflect from their failure to respond to bargaining sessions for more than 200 stores,” Starbucks said in a statement.
Starbucks officials said more than 9,000 stores remained open.
Everything would be more clear if there was a contract, said workers striking at the store in Boulder.
“We’ve had issues with Starbucks around the nation taking down pride decorations, and also they’ve not been clear on changes to trans health care lately,” said Jenna Robertson, barista and organizer. “We take issue with Starbucks not supporting queer workers, since they tokenize queer workers so much in their brand.”
Sheftel and Robertson say that this store hasn’t had any issues with Starbucks taking down pride decorations, but that they’re striking out of solidarity.
“When it comes down to it, the way to get support for LGBTQIA+ workers is to sit down and sign a contract,” Sheftel said. He mentioned that the first Starbucks to unionize, in Buffalo, New York, over a year ago, has still not reached an agreement.
Overall, the employees at Starbucks #10857 are happy with their daily working conditions.
“We just got a new manager, and she is great,” said Izzy Galati, a University of Colorado student and strike captain. “But even when you have a great manager, you still see things you don’t agree with. I wish I had more protections, I wish I could negotiate — just things that a union can help you get.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.