Iowa City Unionized Starbucks Workers ‘Strike With Pride’

By Grace Katzer

June 30, 2023

Iowa City Starbucks workers and community members gathered for a one-day strike on Friday, joining over 3,000 workers in more than 150 stores across the country.

Over 30 people gathered during the strike at the Iowa City Clinton and Burlington Starbucks, located at 228 South Clinton St., demanding change from the large corporation—which is expected to own about 45,000 stores in the US by the end of 2025. 

“We’re striking with pride this week,” said one Starbucks employee, who didn’t want to be named for fear of retaliation. “Over the years, we have been allowed to put up decorations to celebrate ourselves and LGBTQ workers. This year, we were told to take them down.”

The employee said, since their store is unionized, the corporation should have alerted workers of these changes at the bargaining table. However, Starbucks has not bargained with any unionized store, including the Iowa City location, which unionized this May.

“We’re striking to tell Starbucks that they need to bargain this contract with us, and let us decorate how we want to celebrate all of our workers,” the employee said. 

Employees across the country claim the corporation banned Pride decorations during this year’s Pride Month.

“This is a clear continuation of Starbucks’ anti-union campaign to intimidate workers and make them feel unwelcome in their own workplace,” wrote Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) in a press release. “The Starbucks Workers United movement is largely led by LGBTQ+ partners [employees], and this is Starbucks’ latest attempt to silence them.”

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A ‘blatant and tone-deaf act of disrespect’

Although Starbucks has denied the allegations, workers across the US have shared similar experiences of upper management taking down Pride decorations that have been allowed in previous years.

In the SBWU release, Starbucks employees shared stories of anti-LGBTQ behavior at nationwide store locations. 

“We are a store of mostly LGBTQIA+ customers, and we can’t display a Pride flag where customers might see it,” wrote Neha Cremin, a Starbucks worker in Oklahoma City.

“There are no pride decorations up at my store this year,” Cremin added. “When a corporation attempts to remove all personality from their stores to increase profits, demoralize employees, and discourage unionization, it’s no surprise that Pride decorations get removed as well.”

Starbucks workers said they have been told various excuses for the removal of Pride decorations, such as limited hours to decorate, safety concerns, maintaining store consistency, and more. 

“With many of my coworkers also being in the LGBTQIA+ community, we proudly hung a Pride flag in our store, showing people in the community that this was a safe place for them,” wrote Meghin Martin, a Starbucks worker in Richmond, Virginia. “Starbucks making us take down our Pride flag feels like a blatant and tone-deaf act of disrespect and harm toward me, my coworkers, and the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Despite these allegations, Starbucks Corp. CEO Laxman Narasimhan wrote a letter to employees affirming the company’s support for pride.

“We continue to encourage our store leaders to celebrate with their communities, including for the U.S. Pride month in June, as we always have,” he wrote in the letter obtained by Good Morning America. “We must ALL have the same vision for how all people, including LGBTQIA2+ people, should be treated—with respect, support and allyship, because belonging is a core value.”

For the Iowa City Clinton and Burlington location, however, the fight for LGBTQ rights is far from over. 

“I’m striking because I believe all baristas deserve a livable wage and safe work environment,” said one employee.

“I am protesting today because I believe that people working on the floor should be the ones making decisions for the company, too,” added another.

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Fighting for LGBTQ and Starbucks workers everywhere

The Iowa City Clinton and Burlington Starbucks was the first, and so far only, in the state to unionize. The workers won their election with a unanimous 25-0 vote, but are unsure of when Starbucks Corp. will agree to negotiations. 

“After winning the election, there is no clearer sign for a group of workers that shows they’re ready to sit down, bargain in good faith, and get a union contract in place,” said Jennifer Sherer, representative of the Iowa City Federation of Labor. 

The Iowa City Starbucks isn’t the only one who hasn’t made it to the bargaining table—in fact, the National Labor Relations Board alleges the Starbucks Corp. has refused negotiations at over 100 stores that have unionized within the last year. 

“They are dealing with a multimillion-dollar corporation that is refusing to sit down and negotiate, even though [the workers] have done everything they are supposed to do,” Sherer said. “They need this union contract just like every other worker does.”

Sherer said she wants the workers to know they have the Iowa City Federation of Labor’s full support for their unionizing efforts and their strike for LGBTQ+ rights. 

Because their location is the only unionized Starbucks in Iowa, one Starbucks worker said they were striking in solidarity with workers across the state who may not be able to do so. 

“We’re standing up for LGBTQ,” they said. “This community is fighting for not only Iowa City workers but also everyone who works at Starbucks and understands what it’s like.”


by Grace Katzer

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