Employees of a local Montclair Starbucks have joined more than 1,000 baristas across the country in a three-day strike and walkout. This is the second strike in a month for the franchise. 

The Church Street Starbucks, located at 40 South Park St., is the fourth Starbucks franchise in the state to unionize, having joined Starbucks Workers United in early August 2022. Since then, employees have said the store has been plagued by poor management, discrimination, understaffing and a lack of general respect. 

Initially, the Church Street Starbucks planned only a one-day strike, for Sunday. However, after what an employee described as a high-anxiety situation played out on Friday, fed-up workers decided to begin the walkout on the spot. 

An espresso machine broke down during Friday’s morning shift, the employee said. The manager controlling the store that day, who was filling in for the store’s usual manager, refused to shut down the mobile ordering option for customers. This led to an influx of orders with only one machine available to brew espresso shots. 

“It was a very large backup,” said James Cruz, a 24-year-old barista. “Customers were very stressed out and the employees were stressed out. And at some point, they asked if they could just go on strike right then and there.” 

So around 8 a.m. on Friday, baristas of the Church Street Starbucks packed up and left their shifts, leaving the store to be run by managers. For the rest of that day, baristas stood outside in the rain with a couple of signs, marching around the store expressing their frustration with the company.  

For months, the Church Street Starbucks has been fighting to meet with the company to negotiate legally enforceable policies, including ones related to customer and employee safety and sanitation. Without these official, legally binding rules, Cruz said, they are viewed as only suggestions. 

“They're just policies the store has made and there's no legal protections on those,” Cruz said. “So they can be chosen to not be enforced, But what we're trying to do is we're trying to get those basic safeties available for us, available for our customers and everyone.”

Union members at the Church Street store say they have been victims of a union-busting effort, with the company refusing to offer better working conditions and purposely harassing employees for being a unionized group. 

“There has been no movement,” Cruz said. “In fact, it's starting to seem like it's more like regression. New rules are popping up that were either never enforced or never existed until recently, and there is a constant boundary pushing from Starbucks against our union.” 

In a previous interview, Cruz said employees of the Church Street Starbucks were being denied schedule changes typically allowed as the school season approached. Now, Cruz said baristas are being picked on by management for wearing certain buttons on their aprons or wearing college sweatshirts.

Starbucks has also been threatening other local Starbucks franchises interested in joining the union, Cruz said. In some ways, Cruz said Starbucks tries to lure potential union joiners away from Starbucks Workers United by claiming that by doing so, employees will lose all of their benefits. 

“These are the common things that we hear from other baristas from non-unionized stores when they're talking to us about their concerns,” Cruz said. “This is completely false information. Starbucks has shown in the past that they're willing to go as far as making complete boldface lies, that are even sometimes illegal, in order to try to keep stores from unionizing.” 

Starbucks reached out to comment on the ongoing strike and the Church Street employees’ claims of mistreatment. 

"It is unfortunate that Workers United continues to spread misleading claims while disrupting the Starbucks Experience that our partners and customers have come to love and expect,” a Starbucks spokesperson said via email. “Despite these delay tactics, we remain focused on working together and engaging meaningfully and directly with the union to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone, and we urge Workers United to uphold their promises to partners by moving the bargaining process forward.”

On Nov. 17, the Church Street Starbucks took part in another strike on one of the company’s biggest days – Red Cup Day. Since the “Red Cup Rebellion,” Cruz said the Montclair store has yet to see a request for negotiation by Starbucks. However, the location has bonded with the three other unionized locations – Hamilton, Howell and Summit – and has assisted with their negotiations, as well as supporting the non-unionized, local branches. 

“We do understand that it's a scary thing and we do understand that, you know, the company is going extremely rough, but we want them to know that they are cared about,” Cruz said. “They are supported by us no matter what.” 

The Church Street Starbucks employees continued their walkout into Saturday. From 9 to 11 a.m.,  baristas stood outside and steered customers away from the store, giving them access to a number where they can request refunds for their drinks. The franchise plans to continue the strike on Sunday between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.