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'Corporate does not care about us': UNC community members strike on Red Cup Day


On Thursday morning, Starbucks' famous Red Cup Day, UNC students from the Carolina Young Democratic Socialists of America and other community members organized outside the Starbucks location on East Franklin Street with flyers and signs in solidarity with striking Starbucks workers across the nation.

The demonstration coincided with a national strike sponsored by Starbucks Workers Unitedin protest of Red Cup Day and staffing issues. The annual holiday event offers customers who order a holiday-oriented drink a free red reusable cup with their order, increasing business flow for the day.

Toby Posel, a UNC student organizer and volunteer with SWU, said the goal of the UNC demonstration was to achieve solidarity with local and national striking workers. 


“Today is Red Cup Day, it’s their biggest promotional day of the year,” Posel said. “They spend millions of dollars on promo and sales, and they spend almost nothing on making sure that they are adequately staffed.”

Posel said that Carolina YDSA organized as part of the national campaign for better staffing and working conditions for Starbucks workers across the country. To express their opposition to Starbucks policies, Posel said volunteers focused on asking people to call the Starbucks complaint hotline and bring awareness about Starbucks’ union-busting tactics to customers and students.

“I think it’s important for students to know that the Starbucks union is one of the leaders right now in a new wave of workplace organizing and unionization,” Posel said.

Around 30 minutes into the demonstration, a Starbucks barista told demonstrators that while they could continue to protest, they could not block the entrance to the store. Chapel Hill police cars arrived at the location around 8:25 a.m. but left around 10 minutes later — they did not interact with protestors. 

Dash Deana current Starbucks barista, said they are in support of the union and added that while workers do their best to accommodate customer requests, they can’t “break [their] backs for it.”

“It happens like once a week,” Dean said. “People just get so cruel to us and treat us like we’re not human, and I don’t think that is acceptable.”

Dean said that Red Cup Day is centered around Starbucks gaining more profit during the holiday season while they already have a large amount of business.

“It is just proving to us as workers that corporate does not care about us,” they said.

Dean added that extra funds from the company or their promotional events could have been used to solve other problems in the organization such as environmental waste, staff wages and maintenance.

“Red Cup Day is just a way to add salt to the wound,” they said. “That’s all I see it as.”

Samantha Heller, a research specialist with the Carolina Population Center and community member present at the event, said she first became aware of and involved with Starbucks organizing when she was an undergraduate student at Cornell University — where she graduated from in Spring 2023.

Ithaca, where Cornell is located, was the first city in the United States to unionize all of their Starbucks locations. However, Starbucks soon closed all three of their locations in the area. Heller said this was seen as a union-busting and retaliatory effort on the part of Starbucks to the formation of unions at the stores.

After SWU filed a complaint, Starbucks was found guilty of numerous violations of the National Labor Relations Act in July of this year.

“I just got involved with a campaign when I was an undergrad to support Starbucks Workers United and so now that I’m at UNC, I’m trying to continue that effort,” Heller said.

Student organizer with March For Our Lives UNC  Samuel Scarborough said the Chapel Hill event aimed to raise awareness of the actions SWU has been taking to allow workers to have collective bargaining agreements with Starbucks. Collective bargaining involves the ability for employees to negotiate contracts and terms of employment through unions with employers.

“What we’re trying to do is raise awareness around the fact that Starbucks has millions of dollars around this promotion but cannot commit to paying their workers more or helping the currently understaffed workers,” Scarborough said.


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