Starbucks executives last year decided to cancel future Pride month celebrations at more than 100 stores across three states.
“I know there has been some concerns around not decorating for Pride this year,” a store manager in Oklahoma City wrote in a note to unionized baristas in early June. “The decision was made last year on a regional level to create consistency from store to store.”
The note suggested that workers could decorate a small chalkboard outside the store instead.
The store is one of five unionized Starbucks locations in what the company calls Area 120, which comprises more than 100 stores stretched across parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. In both 2021 and 2022, workers at both of those stores, along with many others in the region, were paid to create and hang up decorations to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
The manager’s note, part of a weekly communications update, followed two weeks of silence and mounting tension. In mid-May, the manager instructed a shift supervisor to throw out previous years’ Pride decorations, which had been stowed away in the back of the store. A week or so later, the manager confirmed to the union’s lawyer that Pride celebrations were axed for 2023.
“As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, companies removing support this year is a trend I’m rather familiar with,” said Riley Alexander, who has worked as a barista in a now-unionized Arkansas Starbucks for the past two and a half years. “This latest move to remove PRIDE from Starbucks feels like a slap in the face coming from a company that lured many members of the community into its ranks by claiming support. Starbucks has offered us a place at the table just to pull the chair from under us as we sat down.”
The manager’s note to staff was issued on June 5th. According to one union leader, during a phone call on June 7th, the Regional Director of Operations for Area 120 said that he’d made the decision to cancel Pride decorations after “consulting with upper leadership.”
Starbucks management has vigorously denied that the company has banned Pride displays across the country, as has been alleged by the union.
“We unwaveringly support the LGBTQIA2+ community. There has been no change to any policy on this matter and we continue to encourage our store leaders to celebrate with their communities including for US Pride month in June,” Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trumbull said last week. “We’re deeply concerned by false information that is being spread especially as it relates to our inclusive store environments, our company culture and the benefits we offer our partners.”
Collin Pollitt, a worker at the Starbucks in Oklahoma City, took exception with the statement.
“Andrew Trull’s statement is inconsistent with what the Area 120 Regional Manager said, which was that he personally made a decision to eliminate store decorations after ‘consulting with upper leadership,’” Pollitt said. “It is concerning that Starbucks says they are committed to bargaining in good faith, while unilaterally making decisions that negatively impact the Third Place and refusing to bargain.”
On June 9th, the union sent a letter to Starbucks executives requesting to bargain over the unilateral changes to the store policy, which were made after workers at the store in Oklahoma City won their union election. Starbucks Workers United also demanded the return of various Pride decorations and paid time to decorate the store.
“All our stores’ decorations come together to build what Starbucks calls the Third Place: A community space for customers and workers between work and home, where all feel welcomed,” the union wrote in the letter to executives. “Starbucks’ unilateral decision, under the discretion of our regional manager, has negatively impacted the Third Place, especially for our community who identify as LGBTQIA+ during Pride Month.”
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