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West Hartford Starbucks workers strike, alleging union-busting and anti-LGBTQ+ policies

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JUNE 24: People picket in front of a Starbucks store in the Greektown neighborhood on June 24, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. The event, organized by the Starbucks union, was one of many pickets held nationwide after the coffee giant and the union clashed over claims that the company was not allowing Pride month decorations in Starbucks coffee shops.
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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JUNE 24: People picket in front of a Starbucks store in the Greektown neighborhood on June 24, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. The event, organized by the Starbucks union, was one of many pickets held nationwide after the coffee giant and the union clashed over claims that the company was not allowing Pride month decorations in Starbucks coffee shops.

Workers at a unionized Starbucks café in West Hartford have announced a four-hour strike Wednesday morning.

“Workers at the Corbin’s Corner Starbucks store will be on an unfair labor practice strike to demand that Starbucks meet the partners at the bargaining table to negotiate a fair contract,” the union, Starbucks Workers United, said in a statement. “The workers are also calling on the Company to end its attacks on LGBTQIA+ workers as part of its relentless union-busting campaign that includes threatening workers' access to benefits and refusing to let partners put up pride decorations at dozens of stores across the country.”

But Starbucks insists there has been no change of corporate policy around Pride displays or employee benefits. Starbucks extended full health care to same-sex partners in 1988 and added coverage for gender reassignment surgery in 2013.

In a letter to employees posted Friday on Starbucks’ website, CEO Laxman Narasimhan noted that a Pride flag is currently flying over the company’s Seattle headquarters, just as it has in past years.

“We want to be crystal clear: Starbucks has been and will continue to be at the forefront of supporting the LGBTQIA2+ community, and we will not waver in that commitment,” Narasimhan said. “As such, we strongly disapprove of any person or group, seeking to use our partners’ cultural and heritage celebrations to create harm or flagrantly advance misinformation for self-interested goals.”

The union says the West Hartford workers plan to strike from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the Corbin’s Corner location at 1449b New Britain Ave. in West Hartford, which became the first unionized Starbucks location in Connecticut last June, followed by a store in Vernon voting to unionize in July.

“As Starbucks baristas, we are the face of Starbucks whenever a customer visits a store. We deserve better for what we are demanded to do,” said Corbin’s Corner employee Brittany Braga in a statement.

At least 319 of Starbucks’ 9,265 company-operated U.S. stores have voted to unionize since late 2021, while 76 stores have voted against unionizing, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Workers are seeking guaranteed minimum hours, gender-neutral store bathrooms and safety improvements, among other things.

Starbucks doesn’t support unionization, and the effort has been contentious. Earlier this month, the company agreed to settle an NLRB complaint that it improperly blocked unionized employees from working shifts at University of Washington football games. The company agreed to back pay for 10 workers and also said it would inform current employees in the Seattle area that it won’t interfere with their right to organize.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.

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