State Street Starbucks: Employees Push for Action

Disclaimer: The following blog post is not a reflection of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s opinion on the below topics.

By Ingrid Aufderheide

Outside of a "Starbucks Coffee"
The Madison State Street Starbucks is one of many locations across the nation to strike in response to unfair labor practices, staffing issues, and unhappy customers. Their non-violent strike has made effective change within the store and benefited employees as they approach another busy season of coffee orders.[1]

The State & Lake Starbucks location has been a staple in Madison since the late 1990s, however this hub of student activity has become a beacon of unionization in the recent months as students have arrived back on campus. The strike in Madison originated with a lack of staffing and overworked employees, resulting in longer wait times, unhappy customers, and exploited baristas. The 661 State Street location, which experienced an increase in traffic while running on low staffing numbers, is undergoing a similar strike that can be observed across the nation.[2] The unionization of the State Street Starbucks is a keen example of how non-violent resistance impacts our community at every level.

Starbucks, as a company, is not new to strikes. In June of 2023, a nationwide Starbucks strike was led by thousands of employees across the United States. The reason for these unionizations is at its core an upper management conflict. Not only are Starbucks workers not receiving fair compensation for their time and labor at a variety of locations, but the June unionization was a result of unfair labor practices that “significantly impacted Starbucks’ LGBTQIA+ workforce,” as well.[3] After speaking with employees of the State Street Starbucks in Madison, Wisconsin, the employees explained that the September strike was a result of “lack of support from upper management, not enough [workers] being scheduled during [rush] shifts, and a high demand in-store.” The employee also stated that the employees were “forced to continue accepting mobile orders,” which caused “45 minute wait times on some drinks” and in turn, unhappy customers.[4] The workers at the State Street Starbucks have experienced increased rudeness and discourtesy from customers who are displeased with their wait times–and who then choose to take it out on their baristas. The State Street Starbucks employees, disappointed with the lack of support from upper management and overburdened with the daily workload, decided to go on strike early September. This is the second strike that State Street Starbucks employees have been a part of this year, as this location also participated in the June 2023 strike as well. Strikes such as this one are important due to their ability to demonstrate solidarity, opinions, and outlook on unfair situations in a manner that doesn’t harm customers, workers, or management. The Starbucks workers hoped to achieve recognition from management regarding their dismay surrounding working conditions at 661 State Street.

After speaking with the same employee, she stated that things were slowly getting better at the State Street location. She stated that there had been an improvement in “a lot more consistent scheduling and staffing.”[5] This display of non-violent resistance has proven to be successful so far for the employees of 661 State Street Starbucks, and hopefully things will continue. Their efforts are a reminder that simply saying “No” or resisting mistreatment in a peaceful manner can improve the working conditions at not only Starbucks, but at any place of work. The worker also suggested that employees feel “much more supported and heard by the store manager,” further exemplifying that this strike has improved working conditions for these employees.[6] As staffing increases, the stress level–though not fully absent yet–seems to have decreased for these employees.[7] There is still much to be done as staff still experience bouts of laborious shifts with few moments of rest and irritated customers who must wait for their food or drinks. When inquired about the public, employees responded suggesting that “people didn’t realize it was connected to the staff being overwhelmed,” and chose instead to move to online media and conversation in complaint.[8] The staff wishes that the public understood there is more going on behind the scenes and that they hope the first thing customers think is in observance of the conflict, not a reaction of “I am irritated I can’t get coffee before class.”

This Starbucks is not the first company location to go on strike in Madison, or the first business to go on strike recently. Worker unionization has become an effective force in urging those in power to help respect employees who are deserving of a comfortable work environment. It is entirely possible that we will see more strikes in the future as employees as working conditions persist in unfair treatment to employees.

The Madison State Street Starbucks went on strike early September in response to unfair scheduling and overly stressful, laborious shifts. As a result of the unionization, working conditions have improved in reflection from management of the non-violent protest displayed by employees. The State Street Starbucks employees hope that management will continue to improve working conditions, and that customers will treat the Starbucks baristas with respect and understanding of the situation. When I reached out to employees about additional comments, the consensus was that as the season continues and holiday drinks await their launch, the store is preparing for a rush. Reese Reilly, a worker at the State Street Starbucks location added, “Please be nice and patient to baristas.”[9] Reese provided an excellent reminder as we approach a busy season for workers in the service industry, and especially at Starbucks.[10]

[1] Lauren Aguila for The Daily Cardinal.

[2]Strike with Pride — Starbucks Workers United,” Starbucks Workers United.

[3] Starbucks Workers United.

[4] Anonymous Employees of State Street Starbucks. 2023. In-Person Interview.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Audrey Thibert, “State Street Starbucks becomes second Madison store to organize for union,” The Badger Herald, April 18, 2023.

[8] Francesca Pica, “State Street Starbucks employees strike due to staffing issues,” The Daily Cardinal, September 7, 2023.

[9] Reese Reilly, Starbucks Employee, Interview.

[10] Image, “Starbucks On State St Becomes Second Madison Store To Join Workers United,” Wort.Fm.