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Starbucks workers strike in Oklahoma City, encourage Tulsa to join ranks

Elizabeth Caldwell

Starbucks workers went on strike for the first time ever in Oklahoma, Sunday. At the unionized store on 23rd Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City, baristas refused to work and instead spent the morning picketing.

Starbucks Workers United member Jacob Bone said the protestors want a contract guaranteeing fair treatment.

“Starbucks is firing organizers and closing union stores,” said Bone. “They’re also changing benefits and offering those to non-union stores and not offering them to union stores, including credit and debit card tipping."

According to news reports, Starbucks, which began to first roll out credit and debit card tipping in September, has said it can’t legally allow those electronic tips at union stores without first going through a bargaining process.

Barista organizer Collin Pollitt said the company has refused to talk about tipping with 23rd and Robinson, though.

“They have not communicated to us what the plan is, and they have also not negotiated with us,” said Pollitt.

Neha Cremin, who works at a different Starbucks but wanted to show solidarity with 23rd and Robinson, said the company is purposely punishing union stores. She said credit and debit tips are especially important because they can mean up to $4 more an hour.

“A lot of us are living paycheck to paycheck. That little amount of money adds up. We use it for gas, we use it for food. We use it to survive,” said Cremin.

While Cremin lives with her partner and is able to split bills, she said not all of her colleagues are so lucky.

“I’ve had co-workers who’ve been homeless for a period of time because they just couldn’t afford rent,” said Cremin.

The group of about 25 strikers encouraged would-be patrons to get coffee elsewhere Sunday morning. Some customers crossed the picket line anyway and were served by a group of managers inside who came together as scabs, according to Pollitt.

“None of our workers came into work today because they stand in solidarity with us,” said Pollitt.

Currently, no Starbucks stores in Tulsa have made efforts to unionize. Bone said the process can be a lot of work but he recommends it.

“Join us in asking for a contract so we can make this a job we can depend on instead of being subject to dismissal at any time. We can improve on the benefits we get and also the working conditions,” said Bone.

Strikers are also asking customers to refrain from buying Starbucks holiday gift cards this season, said Bone.

OKC’s push comes as Starbucks workers across the country are doing battle with the company, though the coffee giant is still posting gains. According to recent data on its market cap, Starbucks is worth more than $100 billion.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher
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