Many of the workers at the Starbucks location in downtown Cheyenne are unionizing, making it the first Starbucks in Wyoming to do so should an official vote succeed.
To show their solidarity, the workers went on strike Sunday morning.
A vote to unionize is expected to be held in the next several weeks.
The workers told Cowboy State Daily that the company is cutting their hours, not providing enough staff to meet the expectations of customer service and retaliating against employees who complain.
A dozen workers from the store and other supporting unions protested Sunday morning at the downtown cafe. They held signs and encouraged customers going into the store to get their coffee elsewhere.
According to Workers United, most workers at the store signed union authorization cards in support of unionizing. The pro-union workers filed a formal petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Sunday to hold a union election for the Starbucks workers at the location.
According to a statement from Starbucks Workers United, more than 3,000 Starbucks employees at 150 stores across the nation are striking this week over the company's removal of pride flags from union stores, cuts to gender-related health care, and the company's ongoing refusal to bargain a contract in good faith.
Evita Rojas, a shift supervisor at the Cheyenne store, said a manager offered her alcohol at a house party when she was 19 years old. She’s now 20.
Rojas and another shift supervisor, Madison Oates, said they reported the incident to human resources.
“We reported that. Our statements were taken, and then nothing happened,” Oates said. “Instead, my hours were cut by more than half. I work 15 to 20 hours a week when I used to get 40.”
Oates said other workers at the location have had their hours cut for being in support of unionizing.
Oates said the company also doesn’t provide enough staffing for shifts. They’ll often have only two people on shift during the busy afternoon hours.
“They expect us to have lunches that are 30-minute durations. We’re very busy for mobile orders and deliveries. It’s impossible to meet these requirements that they’re asking of us,” Oates said.
Oates said that 11 of 15 employees at the store signed the union authorization cards.
Andrew Trull, spokesperson for Starbucks, denied that the store cuts hours as a means of retaliation.
Trull told Cowboy State Daily that the company believes in direct relationships with employees as partners, as part of its corporate culture.
This allows them, Trull said, to “have the flexibility to listen and learn from one another, address issues and share in success.”
The company respects the rights of employees to make their own decisions about union representation, according to Trull, and the company is “committed to engaging in good faith collective bargaining for each store where a union has been appropriately certified.”
Starbucks has made more than $1.4 billion in investments to improve employees benefits and store modifications to make employee’s jobs easier.
“As a result, more than 97% of our partners at our more than 9,300 U.S. company-owned stores have chosen to maintain a direct employment relationship with Starbucks,” Trull said.
In a letter to Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan informing the company of their intent to unionize, Oates, Rojas and other employees at the downtown location said the company had told them the staffing issues were the result of COVID-19 and inflation.
However, they say in the letter, the company is making record profits.
“There is no shortage of foot traffic or business,” the workers stated.
They also said the company is risking the workers’ benefits by denying them enough hours. The benefits include health insurance and tuition support.
New workers, they said, are prioritized for scheduling over seasoned employees who “keep the store running the way corporate expects.” These newer employees, the unionizing workers said, lack the experience needed to serve Starbucks customers.
“Hours should come with experience and reliability, rather than used as a means for punishment for those who speak against injustice,” they said.
Other unions came out in support of the striking Starbucks employees.
Austin Vye, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 415, was at the protest Sunday, as was his father, Mark Vye, a Cheyenne resident and union supporter.
“I know what it [unionizing] can do for workers. I just want to make sure they got the support they need to get it done,” Mark Vye told Cowboy State Daily.
Vye said there are challenges to organizing in a right-to-work state like Wyoming.
“It’s a work in progress, but we’re moving in the right direction. You got to fight pretty hard to have a union in Wyoming,” he said.
Tammy Johnson, executive secretary of the Wyoming AFL-CIO, said in a statement that Wyoming has more than 10,000 union members who support the efforts of the Starbucks workers to unionize.
She said that corporations are making “outrageous profits” while employees work multiple jobs.
“From low wages to high on-the-job death rates, Wyoming’s working families pay the price so large companies can get rich,” Johnson said.
Not all the workers participated in the protest and the Starbuck workers’ union efforts.
“There are two that are working as scabs, and they said they’ll quit if it [the unionizing] happens,” Oates said.
Some customers navigated the protestors to get their coffee orders filled.
After protestors encouraged one customer to go elsewhere for her coffee, the customer said she’d ordered online and already paid. The protestors told her she could request a refund.
The customer walked out with her coffee moments later.
Kevin Killough can be reached at Kevin@cowboystatedaily.com.