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While customers enjoy Starbucks’ red cups, students protest company’s unfair labor

Members of Teamsters Local 100 from DHL-CVG joined students with Miami's Young Democratic Socialists of America outside Starbucks to inform customers of its unfair labor practices.
Members of Teamsters Local 100 from DHL-CVG joined students with Miami's Young Democratic Socialists of America outside Starbucks to inform customers of its unfair labor practices.

On Thursday, customers at Miami University’s Shriver Center Starbucks snaked around the interior of the café as they waited to get their free reusable red holiday cup. 

But outside the café, a group of students were informing customers to think twice.

About 20 students gathered outside the café playing music, holding signs and chanting to protest the corporation’s unfair labor practices. The demonstration was held by Miami’s Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) after the national union, Starbucks Workers United, reached out to them.

“The reason that we’re here in solidarity is [because] we pretty much believe in unions and the power of collective bargaining, which is just workers deciding together that they should be paid more for doing the work they are,” Dylan Halpin, co-president of YDSA, said.

Halpin said the organization was not preventing customers from buying from the coffee chain, but they were encouraging them to call Starbucks Headquarters to express their disapproval of the unfair labor practices. According to the union’s website, short staffing, unpredictable schedules, low wages and unaffordable health care are just some of the issues they oppose.

About 20 students gathered outside Miami's Shriver Center Starbucks playing music, holding signs and chanting to protest the corporation’s unfair labor practices. Alice Momany

Starbucks Workers United encouraged all Starbucks employees and customers to walk out and not buy from the company on Nov. 16 because it was Red Cup Day, where customers who buy a holiday drink get a free reusable red cup with their purchase. According to the union’s website, Red Cup Day is the “biggest sales event of the season — and also one of the most infamously hard, understaffed days for baristas that work them.”

In addition to the Shriver Center Starbucks, Miami has two other on-campus locations at Bell Tower Dining Hall and Withrow Hall. All three are under license through Aramark, Miami’s dining service. Oxford also has one Starbucks location off campus on High Street, which is not unionized. Halpin said YDSA picked the Shriver location to inform customers because it’s easily accessible.

“We figured this was easiest and best to talk to customers and really let them know what their money is going towards without stopping them from buying,” Halpin said.

An employee at the Shriver Center Starbucks, who wished to remain anonymous for reasons of job security, was not working today but confirmed that YDSA had reached out to him to participate in the protest. He declined because he needs to keep his job for financial reasons but said he supports the cause.

The employee has worked at that Starbucks location for two years and has personally experienced some unfair labor practices such as low staffing.

“You’ve been to Shriver, you see how insane it is sometimes in there, and a lot of the time we’re told, ‘You got to get used to it. There’s nothing we can do about the line,’ and there’s like four of us back there trying to handle everything,” the employee said.

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He makes $15 per hour as a student lead and feels that he is not adequately paid for the busyness that he’s required to work through. However, as a student paying for rent, groceries and a myriad of other things, he said the good thing about the position is that there are always shifts available if he wants to pick them up.

Photo by Alice Momany | The Miami Student
Kelsey Norris, a senior political science and Latin American studies double major, and Lizzy Childers, a senior zoology major, passed out flyers urging customers to call Starbucks Headquarters to complain about working conditions.

Lizzy Childers, the other co-president of YDSA and a former Starbucks employee, remembers the chaos of working long shifts. Childers did not work at a Starbucks location in Oxford but still experienced unfair labor practices.

“I would say that my management wasn’t as bad as others, but it was still not great,” Childers said. “I was, a lot of the time, the only person working at Starbucks as a 17-year-old.”

Childers said they experienced anxiety at work because they were constantly on their feet and did not receive a five minute break to get water. They also said they continuously experienced rude behavior from customers.

In addition to student activists, members of Teamsters Local 100 from DHL-CVG joined in the protest. All three of them had just gotten off their night shift but made the 45-minute drive to Oxford.

“[We’re here] in solidarity of labor,” Brandon Hubbard, one of the members, said. “The working class people built this country.”

Workers from DHL-CVG voted to join Teamsters 100, unionizing in May. The unit is currently working toward its first union contract.

Avery Close, a first-year political science major, was at the Shriver Starbucks during the protest and said while she was unfamiliar with the unfair labor practices, she could tell that employees are sometimes overworked.

After learning more about the practices behind the management, Close said it will make her think twice about ordering from the franchise.

“If I’m in a rush, I might not go because I will feel bad,” she said. “I don’t want to make them have to work harder, [especially] if they’re not getting paid enough or scheduling enough people.”

While the employees inside Starbucks were working hard during the protest, Halpin said he hopes the protest showed them that they are supported.