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Politicians and labor leaders join striking West Hartford Starbucks workers on picket line

Strikers, including former Starbucks worker Julie Langevin (middle), protest outside the Corbin’s Corner Starbucks demanding a fair labor contract and greater support of lgbtqia+ workers, June 28, 2023. “The company still refuses to bargain with the union in violation of federal law,” said US Senator Chris Muprphy, “It’s immoral and illegal.”
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Strikers, including former Starbucks worker Julie Langevin (middle), protest outside the Corbin’s Corner Starbucks demanding a fair labor contract and greater support of lgbtqia+ workers, June 28, 2023. “The company still refuses to bargain with the union in violation of federal law,” said US Senator Chris Murphy, “It’s immoral and illegal.”

Several dozen store workers and allies from other labor unions and organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, Teamsters, United Auto Workers, Connecticut Tenants Union and the Connecticut Democratic Socialists of America, picketed outside the Corbin’s Corner Starbucks store in West Hartford Wednesday for a one-day strike.

“Workers at the Corbin’s Corner Starbucks store will be on an unfair labor practice strike to demand that Starbucks meet the partners at the bargaining table to negotiate a fair contract,” the union, Starbucks Workers United, said. “The workers are also calling on the company to end its attacks on LGBTQIA+ workers as part of its relentless union-busting campaign that includes threatening workers' access to benefits and refusing to let partners put up pride decorations at dozens of stores across the country.”

Starbucks employees (far right, and second from right) remove strike notices from a Starbucks sign outside the Corbin’s Corner after the notices were attached by striker and former Starbucks employee Julie Langevin.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Starbucks employees (far right, and second from right) remove strike notices from a Starbucks sign outside the Corbin’s Corner after the notices were attached by striker and former Starbucks employee Julie Langevin.

The union said they’re seeking both an end to an alleged ban on Pride decorations in some of the company’s stores nationwide – including at the Corbin’s Corner location – and a contract guaranteeing a national minimum hourly wage of $20, annual raises, increased sick days, and health care coverage paid 100% by Starbucks.

“We are continuing to push to get Starbucks to come to the bargaining table and bargain for a contract in good faith, which they continue to resist doing,” said shift supervisor and union organizer Travis Glenney-Tegtmeier, who said a Starbucks district manager had repeatedly come into the Corbin’s Corner store to remove Pride displays.

Travis Glenney, a shift supervisor with the Corbin’s Corner Starbucks in West Hartford, Ct., talks with (left-right) Jennifer Berigan of the AFL-CIO, State Treasurer Erick Russell and State Senator Derek Slap while a striking to demand a fair labor contract. The Corbin’s Corner store became the first unionized Starbucks in Connecticut in June 2022.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Travis Glenney, a shift supervisor with the Corbin’s Corner Starbucks in West Hartford, Ct., talks with (left-right) Jennifer Berigan of the AFL-CIO, State Treasurer Erick Russell and State Senator Derek Slap while a striking to demand a fair labor contract. The Corbin’s Corner store became the first unionized Starbucks in Connecticut in June 2022.

“We’re ready to put our money where our mouths are,” said Glenney-Tegtmeier, noting the company’s stock had taken a hit on Wall Street since the strike began. “You know what? It’s going to keep going down until they sit down at the table with us.”

The Corbin’s Corner store became the first unionized Starbucks in Connecticut in June 2022. Jordie Adams, a worker at a Starbucks store in Ludlow, Massachusetts, who formerly worked and organized at Connecticut’s second unionized Starbucks, in Vernon, said the West Hartford work stoppage was just the latest of many at the company’s stores around the nation.

“We have over 150 union stores across the country, which is almost about 50% of our [unionized] stores – we’re at about 320 – willing to go on strike for the unfair labor practice of not being allowed to decorate for Pride, in addition to Starbucks’ refusal to negotiate a contract,” Adams said.

Starbucks workers remove pro-strike and pro-pride signs from the outside of the West Hartford Corbin’s Corner coffee shop as striking workers and labor advocates picketed to demand a fair labor contract, June 28, 2023.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Starbucks workers remove pro-strike and pro-pride signs from the outside of the West Hartford Corbin’s Corner coffee shop as striking workers and labor advocates picketed to demand a fair labor contract, June 28, 2023.

Adams claimed a worker at the Vernon store had been fired in retaliation for organizing activity shortly after the staff there voted to unionize in July 2022. In response to a request for comment, a Starbucks spokesperson said they were not able to provide information regarding any firings at the Vernon store and that interest in unionizing is not grounds for termination, but “interest in a union does not exempt partners from following established policies and procedures.”

Around 8:00 a.m. Wednesday in West Hartford, a manager, who declined to speak to reporters or give her name but whose nametag read “Heidi,” unlocked the store and began opening for the day, to jeers from the strikers. She and a second manager, who also declined to give her name, removed several Pride and union flyers that had been taped to the front of the store by union members, telling the union members it was their “legal right” to do so.

Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne, who marched in Wednesday’s picket line, noted an irony in the managers’ apparel.

“I said to her, ‘Why are you taking down all the Pride stuff while you’re wearing a Pride shirt? It doesn’t make any sense,’” Hawthorne said. “Obviously, they didn’t respond.”

Picketers strike outside Starbucks at Corbin’s Corner in West Hartford, Ct., June 28, 2023. (Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public)
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Picketers strike outside Starbucks at Corbin’s Corner in West Hartford, Ct., June 28, 2023. (Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public)

“This is a new kind of union movement where it’s very much worker-led, worker-focused, and they are out there coming up with these ideas themselves,” Hawthorne said. “It’s great to see the younger folks especially, the Gen Z folks, stepping up and recognizing the power that there is in a union. That’s exactly what they’re doing: they’re banding together as one voice and fighting back against a very powerful corporation.”

Picketers succeeded in turning away several prospective customers by explaining the strike and providing union literature. Other patrons entered and purchased drinks. One man in scrubs jeered and made a thumbs-down gesture at the workers as he carried out his order.

Elected officials also joined the workers to show support, including state Sen. Derek Slap and Rep. Kate Farrar, both West Hartford Democrats; Connecticut Treasurer Erick Russell; and Democratic U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal.

“The company still refuses to bargain with the union in violation of federal law. It’s immoral and illegal,” Murphy said.

“This corporation has utterly failed in its human rights record,” said Blumenthal. “Gay rights are human rights. Workers’ rights are human rights. They are asking to bargain collectively, which the company has discouraged and, in fact, disparaged.”

Blumenthal reacted to customers and workers crossing the picket line at the Corbin’s Corner store.

A healthcare worker who didn’t give his name exits Starbucks in Corbin’s Corner, West Hartford, Ct. as strikers picket the coffee shop demanding a fair labor contract and an end to what workers are calling “attacks on LGBTQIA+,” June 28, 2023. (Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public)
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
A healthcare worker who didn’t give his name exits Starbucks in Corbin’s Corner, West Hartford, Ct. as strikers picket the coffee shop demanding a fair labor contract and an end to what workers are calling “attacks on LGBTQIA+,” June 28, 2023.

“Everybody has to make an individual decision, and I’ve made my decision by refusing to cross this picket line,” Blumenthal said. “I like Starbucks. I’m a real fan of the coffee. But I’m not going to go to a company and a store that refuses to recognize basic rights.”

In a statement, Starbucks refuted the workers’ union’s claims regarding Pride policies, and accused the union of being the party refusing to bargain in good faith at the Corbin’s Corner and Vernon stores.

“Workers United continues to spread false information about our benefits, policies and negotiation efforts—a tactic used to seemingly divide our partners and deflect from their failure to respond to bargaining sessions for more than 200 stores,” said Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull.

On Monday, Starbucks filed charges against the union with the National Labor Relations Board, calling the workers’ claims an “unlawful smear campaign.”

“The union’s unlawful campaign includes, without limitation, making deliberate misrepresentations that include maliciously and recklessly false statements about Starbucks longstanding support of Pride month and decorations in its stores,” the company wrote in its complaint.

Julie Langevin, a Starbucks Workers United organizer, said Wednesday that while the Corbin’s Corner strike was planned to last only one day, it’s possible the union could call further, longer strikes in the future, as unionized Starbucks staff in Washington state and Massachusetts have done.

“I think that Starbucks vastly underestimates the power and strength of these workers, the determination of these partners,” said Langevin over a chant of “no contract, no coffee” from the gathered picketers.

“I think they have another thing coming if they think they’re going to win this fight,” Langevin said.

Pro-labor and pro-pride signs are taped to the Starbucks in Corbin’s Corner during a strike by employees and labor advocates calling for a fair labor contract, June 28, 2023.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Pro-labor and pro-pride signs are taped to the Starbucks in Corbin’s Corner during a strike by employees and labor advocates calling for a fair labor contract, June 28, 2023.

Updated: June 29, 2023 at 5:15 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include comments from Starbucks received after initial publication.
Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.
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