Manhattan Starbucks workers’ 45-day strike demands bedbug elimination and contract negotiations
Jacob Buckner / People's World

NEW YORK—On Dec. 7, 2022, supporters came out to the Chelsea Starbucks Roastery, where Starbucks United workers have been on strike for 45 days. The workers here walked out, citing health violations like mold and bedbug infestations inside the store.

People’s World talked with Nicole Derose, one of the organizers who’s been on strike every day, fighting for the safety demands to be met and for the company to negotiate a union contract with her and her coworkers.

People’s World: What is your name, and what is your position at Starbucks? How long have you been out here striking, and what were your reasons for striking?

Nicole Derose: I’m Nicole, I’m a barista at this location and member of Starbucks United. Today is day 44 of our strike. It all started on a Tuesday when one of our co-workers decided to walk out of work because the day before they found bedbugs in our breakroom. We refused to work because we didn’t want any bedbugs taken home, so this is what started it all.

When did the workers at your store decide to unionize, and when did you start to notice these health and safety concerns?

We had won our union vote on April 1, that’s when we became a member of the union, represented by Starbucks Workers United. We started noticing these problems, especially the ice machine, over the Summer in June and July.

Our partners were opening the machine, and it was caked with mold. Partners who were cleaning the machine were getting sick and had to go to the hospital from breathing in the mold. We were getting sick from ingesting it. The mold would make its way into the chunks of ice and into the serving well.

When we brought it to managers’ attention on the floor, saying, “Look there’s mold on this ice,” they would say “Toss that piece into the sink, don’t serve that piece, just scoop around it, and the rest of the ice is fine.” That was going on for months, and we eventually reached our breaking point.

There was a lack of communication with the bedbugs, even with management being aware that they were there. Partners saw them with their own eyes, but managers weren’t notifying us. We had to hear it from word of mouth. None of the managers were addressing it with us. They were told to keep it quiet because they didn’t want us freaking out.

That was a complete lack of communication and lack of trust. Because the breakroom wasn’t safe, we had all our stuff in plastic bags and left it there. All these issues culminated and started a spontaneous walkout. I said, “I don’t feel safe in this store,” and we walked out. That was Tuesday, Oct. 25, almost two months ago. We’re out here every day, rain or shine.

Did you get any indication that the company wanted to come to the table and meet your demands? I imagine these demands also have a lot to do with the union’s overall demand to secure a contract.

Regarding the national bargaining date, yes. Since the day we voted seven months ago, we have said, “Let’s get our national contract going, let’s get our true bargaining contract set.” They always said no. So, this is one of our list of demands with this strike: Yes, we want all the health and safety issues corrected, but we also want a bargaining date. It took almost 40 days into the strike, but we did get them to set a date.

We also understand that you had a meeting with the company to discuss your list of demands. How did this go, and how did the company respond to your needs as workers?

Right before Thanksgiving, we had a meeting with Starbucks corporate lawyers and a health and safety representative from corporate. But none of the managers showed up, even though we wanted them to. Management itself will not come to these meetings. They said to us, “Alright, let’s actually discuss your strike demands,” since we had been sending our demands through email every morning as a strike notice.

Jacob Buckner / People’s World

The list of demands is basic things like getting a bargaining date, having transparency, having a new ice machine, and having a schedule in place. We want to get the store fumigated for bedbugs because it’s been months now, and coworkers are still finding them.

We also wanted to see exterminator reports. They’ve now shown us these reports in these corporate meetings, which we consider a win for us. One of the reports they brought stated, “One dead bedbug found” in November. Yet we’re still hearing from the inside that they’re finding live ones on our coworkers.

So, we know what’s happening. These are basic things that they should have been doing all along, but now we have to come to the table and demand it.

How has it been in terms of support from co-workers and others still inside in the building?

What we’re doing is considered a minority-led strike. There’s between 100-110 workers that are at this location, with about 35 of us taking a step to come out and strike. We firmly believe that the only way to have change is to do this together.

Our initial hope was for everyone to come out and stand with us, but we do understand that individuals have extenuating circumstances. We really want to uphold and promote the message that everything we’re doing out here is not only for us on strike, but for all of our friends who still work inside.

We want a better store for ourselves but even for the people who can’t come out and stand with us. In a perfect world they would be with us, and it would help get the result faster, but right now the minority is working for the greater good of the majority.

Do you think striking with the union gives additional protection that would otherwise make matters more difficult? How will this strike influence your job with the company once you go back inside?

Yes, they can’t fire us. Striking is a federally-protected act. Once we walk inside, they can’t say, “You went on strike so can’t come back.” What the company will do is go back and look through our records with a fine-tooth comb and a magnifying glass, and they will keep an eye on us, when we do go back inside. This is because they don’t want people who they know take action to work for them. They want to have an easy time and be able to do whatever they want with workers, so we’re prepared for that. That’s the reality that comes with striking.

In terms of outside help, has there been support from other unions and political groups? When I was interviewing another worker in the striking Starbucks on Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, they said a huge part of the strike’s survival was thanks to outside support through a strike fund.

I’m going to take this as an opportunity to plug our GoFundMe. We’re on strike and being compensated by the union strike fund, but it doesn’t compensate the entirety of our wages. It’s a big financial hardship on us to have to be out here, and nobody thought it was going to last this long.

We’re going on 45 days tomorrow. We’ve had a lot of external support; we’ve had people from different organizations. We held a big rally in November, and so many unions came out to support us from different industries, like Teamsters, CWA, CUNY Schools, as well as UPS workers standing in solidarity with us. It’s amazing to have a rally and see a UPS truck pass by and honk their horn, like “Yes, we’re union too!” It keeps us going.

Do you have any last words about the strike and your demands going forward?

We’re gonna keep going! There’s the notion that we are out here just because we want to be out here, but we’re out here because we have to be. We just want to feel safe going back in. That’s all we want. We’re looking to feel safe and for everyone inside to feel safe. That’s the core of our message.


Jacob Buckner
Jacob Buckner

Jacob Buckner writes from New York. Jacob Buckner escribe desde Nueva York.