EDGEWATER — Unionized baristas at a Far North Side Starbucks walked off the job for two days this month — but workers say the coffee chain still hasn’t responded to their demands to improve staffing and ensure current employees have enough work hours.
Employees at Starbucks, 5964 N. Ridge Ave., went on strike July 1-2. Emily Alaimo, who’s been a barista since March 2021, said the group made the decision after work conditions worsened when the employees joined the Starbucks Workers United union in May.
Alaimo said Starbucks has been understaffing the store and not scheduling workers for enough hours to effectively run the cafe for four months. The company “drastically reduced” the length of shifts even though people wanted to work more, causing some full-time employees to lose their benefits because their hours were reduced to less than part-time, Alaimo said.
“We are unable to even call out sick because we simply don’t have enough employees to spare even one not being able to make a shift,” Alaimo said.
Starbucks representatives and a district manager did not respond to requests for comment.
During the strike, workers stood outside the cafe holding signs that read “Stop Labor Cuts Now” and “People Over Profit.” More than $7,000 has been donated to the workers’ GoFundMe, which is being used to pay lost wages and buy supplies for further actions.
The day after the strike, the baristas hosted a Solidarity Sip-In and asked customers to come show support for their cause. Attendees tipped a record amount, Alaimo said.
“It felt absolutely incredible, fulfilling and rewarding to go on strike,” Alaimo said. “The support from the community was unmatched. From regulars to fellow union members, people showed out.”
Workers at two Starbucks locations Downtown and in Logan Square unionized earlier this year, joining more than 180 other stores across the country calling for a say in the corporation’s decision-making.
“Our needs as workers are consistently not being met, and prior to the union vote, there was nothing we could do about it,” Alaimo said. “My partners and I were inspired by other baristas organizing around the country, and we knew that if there was going to be a time to organize our store, it was right now during this historical movement.”
Despite baristas’ decision to unionize and go on strike, the company still hasn’t increased workers’ hours or hired people to fill the store’s multiple openings, Alaimo said. This means baristas continue to “work the jobs of two to three people at a time,” she said.
“It feels like they want the conditions at the store to get so intolerable that we slowly begin to quit so they can hire explicitly non-union staff to replace us,” Alaimo said. “Why else would a company not want its stores to have enough staff to keep up with the volume of business they get?”
Alaimo said the district manager ended up filling in behind the bar during the strike.
“While we were amused by it, it didn’t solve any problems; and even with her help, we were still operating under-staffed,” Alaimo said. “We hope this at least indicates that she is feeling the pressure of the union.”
The workers want Starbucks to negotiate with the union and deliver a fair, equitable contract that includes enough labor hours for the store to run effectively and allows one or two more baristas to work at a time, Alaimo said.
Alaimo said the baristas plan to “keep making noise about this for as long as it continues.” She encouraged supporters to donate to the workers’ GoFundMe and follow their Instagram, @clarkridge_sbwu, for updates.
“Starbucks is trying to make union baristas seem greedy, like we’re only it for ourselves, but we’re fighting to make this company better for everyone — especially customers,” Alaimo said. “When we are as severely understaffed as we’ve been, the first ones to suffer are the customers — longer wait times, fewer opportunities to make customer connections, inconsistent beverage quality. It ultimately hurts the business that Starbucks does.”
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