Ezra “Alex” Boyd has worked for Starbucks for more than eight years and in multiple states, and they used to love it. But Boyd and workers at three locations in the Baltimore area went on strike Thursday on one of the busiest days of the year because they say the company refuses to bargain with and fully staff union stores.

Boyd, 32, is currently a shift manger at the company’s North Charles Street location in Baltimore’s Midtown-Belvedere neighborhood, and they have also worked at locations in California, Georgia and Iowa. In a few weeks, they will step down from their current position as a team lead back down to a barista because the conditions are so bad, they said.

“I have worked for the company for a little more than eight years, and this is by far the worst the company has ever treated us ... it just feels like they’re turning on us,” Boyd said.

“Once upon a time, I genuinely loved working for Starbucks. I want to love it again. And unless they’re willing to bargain with us, I don’t think it’s going to be possible for anyone to love working here anymore,” Boyd added.

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Workers at three of the global coffee chain’s Baltimore-area stores are part of the strike taking place at more than 100 Starbucks locations nationwide, the largest action since employees began unionizing in 2021 to push for better pay, better staffing and more consistent schedules.

Thursday’s strike fell on Red Cup Day, when the company gives free reusable cups to customers who order a holiday drink, and was dubbed the Red Cup Rebellion.

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Yet customers still filled the North Charles Street store, despite the nearly 20 strikers present who were drinking coffee from competitor Dunkin’ and holding signs that read “FULL STAFFING NOW” and “No contract, No coffee.”

Boyd and Ngaire Philip, 29, another shift manager, explained the store’s production does not stop despite the staffing levels at the store. And while there were seven people working Thursday morning, Philip said she couldn’t remember the last time the store has had more than five people working at a time for one shift.

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“Ever since the world began to reopen after the pandemic, they’ve felt like they could just staff us on a bare-bones-like skeleton crew and squeeze as much labor out of us as they could to essentially make the same amount of money,” Philip said.

Philip said she has friends at non-unionized stores who have reported staffing issues as well.

Even when only two to three people show up a shift, workers have to pick up the slack as mobile and delivery orders continue to roll in, a handful of strikers said.

Alex Boyd holds a sign while on strike with other Starbucks employees at Baltimore’s North Charles Street location. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Earlier this year, Starbucks raised wages at all U.S. stores to at least $15 an hour. But striking workers say it’s not enough.

The North Charles Street store joined Workers United about seven months ago, making it the first location to organize in Maryland.

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Starbucks workers are part of a growing national trend of employees unionizing across multiple industries, from tech giants such as Amazon to smaller chain grocery stores such as MOM’s Organic Market.

In a statement to The Baltimore Banner, Starbucks said it respects workers’ right to protest. The Seattle company also called on the union to come to the bargaining table in good fath.

“We remain committed to all partners and will continue to work together, side-by-side, to make Starbucks a company that works for everyone,” the company said Thursday in a statement.

Boyd said workers in Baltimore and beyond want to bargain for better conditions at all the chain’s stores without reprisal.

“I am afraid because Starbucks has shown more than once in the past that when they discover any union activity, they will find a non-related ‘reason’ to fire people so I am very fearful,” Boyd said. “And ultimately we want better wages, more technical support and better staffing in general ... I get life happens, but two or three partners should not have to do the job of five or six.”

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Barista and strike leader Violet Sovine, who also works at the North Charles Street location, said she and her colleagues have a legal right to protest.

“I don’t foresee any retaliation but if there is any, this will become a legal matter and result in a court case,” Sovine said.