Overland Park Starbucks workers join in Plaza protest pushing for union

Employees from two local Starbucks stores, including one on 75th Street in Overland Park, joined with local activists on Thursday outside the store on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza in support of the workers' recent unionization efforts. Photo by Lucie Krisman

Starbucks employees from two metro locations, including one in Overland Park, along with dozens of labor activists and supporters gathered outside the coffee chain’s location on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza Thursday to protest what they call the company’s union-busting actions. 

Workers from the Country Club Plaza location and the store on 75th Street in Overland Park started the process of unionizing weeks ago. Workers from both locations reported workplace safety concerns, among other issues. 

Since then, workers at the Overland Park store have reportedly filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the company for its efforts to limit benefits for unionizing employees. 

Hope Gregg, a worker from the Overland Park store, said the location on 75th Street has seen substantial growth since it opened in 2015 but staff haven’t received the support they need to maintain that growth. 

She said the Overland Park store, like many others, have experienced “chronic understaffing” and high turnover due to the COVID-19 pandemic and negligent management.

We have to deal with a company that prides itself on being progressive and forward thinking when none of our voices are heard,” she said. “Unionizing isn’t an attempt to separate us from Starbucks but to strengthen our relationship with the company. We deserve a seat at the table.”

Gregg said she applied to work at Starbucks partly due to the progressive nature of the company and the benefits it offers, including comprehensive health insurance, but she suggested that managers and company officials use those very benefits as justification for not taking seriously employee concerns.  

“It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth that any complaint or issue we bring to the higher-ups to solve, we get our benefits dangled in our faces to shut us down,” she said. “We need to recognize exactly how predatory this is. When you find a group of people who desperately seek acceptance, people who desperately need health care, people who desperately need schooling, you’ll often find how much they will sacrifice in their personal lives to achieve this.” 

Josh Crowell, a worker from the Plaza store, said the company’s behavior has gone against its “third place policy“— a mission statement that ensures a safe and welcoming space for workers and customers. The company needs its workers in order to maintain that, he said. 

“We as partners [employees] show up every day to create this experience for everyone who steps into our cafes or comes to our drive-thrus,” he said. “That experience is something we create as people who care for each other and respect all those who come into our space.”

Workers from both locations planned to protest the company’s “captive audience sessions,” which are mandatory meetings held with workers that they say are intended to discourage unionizing among employees.

Both meetings originally planned for Thursday afternoon were canceled shortly before they were set to begin at 4 p.m., at the time that the workers were protesting on the Plaza. 

According to KCUR, Sarah Maier, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, said the company wants to work with its employees.

“We believe we are best in our direct relationship with one other so that we can keep hearing directly from one another, without a third party between us,” she said. “But that said, we also fully respect our partners’ legal right to unionize.”

Starbucks union leaders in other cities such as Memphis and Buffalo have been recently fired after their unionization involvement. 

Terrence Wise, a McDonald’s employee and leader with local labor rights group Stand Up KC said the hurt Starbucks and corporations like it have caused their workers is “real and tangible”. 

The unjust work conditions Starbucks employees are describing also impact workers in retail industries and hospitals, he said, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“In the labor union, we say an injury to one is an injury to all,” he said. “That means we go up and we go down together. That means we have each other’s backs. Because when folks are greedy and put profits over people, that’s a problem.”