GREEKTOWN — Workers at four Chicago Starbucks locations went on strike Wednesday, part of a growing national movement to unionize the coffee house giant’s stores.
Workers at the Greektown location, 116 S. Halsted St., will vote March 31 to decide if the shop will unionize. If a majority of the 17 employees vote in support, the shop will be the 14th Starbucks location to unionize in Illinois and one of nearly 300 unionized shops nationwide, said Madison Lisle, an organizer with Starbucks Workers United.
Workers at two Edgewater shops, 5964 N. Ridge Ave. and 6350 N. Broadway, and a shop in West Ridge, 6075 N. Lincoln Ave., also took to picket lines Wednesday. The three shops are among the seven Chicago Starbucks that have unionized.
The company and Starbucks Workers United have yet to agree on a contract for any of the unionized locations. On Wednesday, over 100 stores across the country were on strike to “demand an end to Starbucks’ illegal union-busting campaign.”
Unionized Starbucks employees are fighting for higher wages, better benefits and full staffing. Staff at the Greektown Starbucks also are fighting for consistent hours and better safety protocols, employees said.
Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment.
Lillie Haneghan, a shift supervisor at the Greektown location, said staff members have unreliable work schedules, with some working 40 hours one week and 20 the next. This makes it hard to count on a steady paycheck, Haneghan said.
Managers also don’t allow the restrooms to be public, only allowing paying customers to access them. Haneghan and other staff members believe the bathrooms should be accessible to everyone.
The location has had several incidents involving people overdosing in their bathrooms and individuals having mental health crises and becoming “violent” in the store, Haneghan said.
“We don’t have training for dealing with overdoses in the bathroom or when a patron is maybe being belligerent in the cafe. We just don’t have ways to deal with it other than calling the police, which often escalates the situation and puts us in danger, as well as the patrons,” said Lillie Elling, a barista.
Elling and Haneghan said the company has not been open to having Narcan on site, which reverses an opioid overdose when administered.
“There’s no way for us to know when it’s going to happen. Oftentimes, baristas or other patrons, open the bathrooms and there’s someone unconscious in there and that’s how we find them,” Elling said.
Police officials could not immediately confirm how many times police had been called to the Greektown Starbucks because of opioid overdoses, but Elling said there have been at least two overdoses at the location in the last year.
The Greektown shop also recently lost its general manager. An interim general manager is currently running the store, staff said. Starbucks did not respond to questions asking if the company plans to hire a permanent replacement.
In October, Starbucks closed an Edgewater shop as the location was set to start contract negotiations. Workers said it was “no coincidence” but a spokesperson for the company said the shop was closed do to “ongoing safety issues impacting customers and partners.”
That closing left the city with seven unionized Starbucks locations.
Wednesday’s strike is set ahead of the company’s annual shareholders meeting taking place Thursday. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is also expected to testify. in the U.S. Senate next week about the company’s multiple federal labor law violations against union employees.
Earlier this month a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that Starbucks committed “egregious and widespread” violations of federal law in its campaign to halt unions, according to Axios.
Judge Michael A. Rosas ordered the company to reinstate seven workers who were illegally fired for engaging in union organizing.
Rosas also found the company “illegally monitored, disciplined and fired employees engaged in union organizing; added workers to stores to dilute support for the union; and promised new benefits to workers in an attempt to defuse support for the union,” according to The New York Times.
The first Starbucks union started out of a shop in Buffalo, New York, in December 2021. To date, more than 280 Starbucks stores nationwide have unionized, according to Starbucks Workers United.
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