Jake Siesel, Contributing Photographer

As customers flocked to the Starbucks on Chapel Street in New Haven for handcrafted holiday refreshments, representatives from the Democratic Socialists of America staged a protest, distributing flyers describing Starbucks union-busting practices. 

The protest at the New Haven location was part of what the Starbucks Workers Union called a “Red Cup Rebellion” as employees at locations across the country walked out on Starbucks’ annual “Red Cup Day” on Thursday, Nov. 16. The flyers protesters handed out displayed a QR code which scanned to a page with information for customers to call the Starbucks complaint line and voice their distaste for the corporate policy.  

Some patrons stopped to listen to protesters’ grievances; however, most passersby still trickled into the store.

Lex Schultz ’24, co-chair of Yale’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, and Francesca Maria, co-chair of the New Haven chapter of the DSA, stood arm-in-arm educating patrons on what they described as unethical corporate practices. The DSA is the largest socialist organization in the country, whose members organize around housing injustice, reproductive rights and solidarity with Palestine and Cuba. 

They coordinated with Starbucks Workers United, the union representing over 9,000 Starbucks workers nationwide to catalyze a “Red Cup Rebellion” across the country. Since Red Cup Day marks one of Starbucks’ busiest events for baristas, the Starbucks Workers United wrote that it is one of the “most infamously hard, understaffed days.” 

“The company has engaged in union-busting like bullying workers, firing workers in retaliation to organizing and more than 250 documented labor law violations,” Maria said. “We are asking people that enjoy Starbucks coffee to call the Starbucks regional office in a small show of solidarity with their baristas. Today is Red Cup Day, you’re making record profits, you can afford to treat your workers well, to pay baristas well, to fix your staffing issues and stop union-busting.”

According to the National Labor Relations Board, Starbucks has committed over a dozen labor law violations in the past year. The NLRB also accused Starbucks in 2022 of failing and refusing to collectively bargain with 21 unions at different locations. 

In an email to the News on Nov. 22 from a Starbucks spokesperson, the company attributed the lack of progress toward contracts to the unions’ unwillingness to meet with the company.

“We respect our partners’ right to organize, freely associate, engage in lawful union activities and bargain collectively without fear of reprisal or retaliation,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement attributed to Starbucks. “We’re encouraged by the progress we’ve seen towards first contracts at stores where union representatives have approached bargaining with professionalism and an actual interest in discussing partner priorities with our bargaining committees.” 

Three Connecticut Starbucks locations — in Danbury, West Hartford and Vernon — have successfully unionized with assistance from Starbucks Workers United. However, the Chapel Street branch has not yet initiated a unionization process. 

The protesters outside the New Haven location capitalized upon the wave of customers to spread awareness and amplify the voices of disgruntled baristas.

“We want their baristas to be happy and have a liveable wage,” Schultz told the News.  “Starbucks needs to commit to ending union-busting practices and stop violating federal labor law. It should be up to the workers to decide if they wish to unionize or not.”

Melanie Ulloa ’27 started working at the Chapel Street Starbucks in early September. Ulloa, who is from Hialeah, Florida worked as a barista at the Miami Lakes Starbucks branch during her senior year of high school. She complimented the organization and structure of her South Florida management team but said that there was a stigma surrounding joining a union. 

She told the News that her experience working at the New Haven location has been significantly worse.

“In September, [buy one, get one free] Thursdays were a nightmare,” Ulloa said. “Corporate makes discounts, and stores don’t get notified until a week prior. We couldn’t alter our hours because at that point our schedule had already been made. We were simply understaffed.”

Ulloa emphasized that unionization of the Chapel Street branch remains a slim possibility. She said that most employees at the location are adults with children and multiple jobs with urgent issues to attend to. 

When asked if interested in unionizing the Chapel Street location, Ulloa empathized with the movement but offered a blunt response. 

“I don’t think I would unionize,” she said. “Unionizing is a very valid desire given the lack of communication between partners and management, the lack of resources and corporate changes. But it requires passion, effort and drive, not enough for me to consider the movement.” 

The Red Cup Day promotion occurred nationwide on Thursday, Nov. 16.