Overland Park Starbucks workers stage one-day walkout over treatment amid union push

Employees at a Starbucks on West 75th Street in Overland Park went on strike Saturday morning to protest what they say are unfair working conditions and alleged retaliation against workers trying to unionize. The store was closed most of the day but opened back up that evening. Photo credit Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga/KCUR 89.3.

By Bek Shackekford-Nwanganga

At 8 a.m. Saturday, workers at a Starbucks on West 75th Street in Overland Park staged a walkout, effectively closing the cafe.

After walking out, employees were joined by supporters to protest what they say are unfair working conditions and retaliatory acts against workers trying to unionize. The strikers said employees who were on the schedule returned to work at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Employees at the store in Overland Park and another location on the Country Club Plaza Starbucks filed for a union election in late January, and a store in Independence filed earlier this month, joining a national movement of more than 140 Starbucks stores in the process of unionizing.

In Overland Park, the union election was held this week. Employees there say since announcing plans to unionize, management has made multiple attempts to try and discourage them from doing so.

Maddie Doran, a shift supervisor at the Overland Park store, has been outspoken in supporting efforts to unionize.

Doran said the store is extremely understaffed. She said a manager accused her of stealing around the time of the unionization vote. Doran believes it was a scare tactic.

“So it’s very clearly retaliation and we’ve just been continuously mistreated by the company,” Doran said. “And so we’re just out here striking today just to show that, like, we have the power and that, like, this store’s open because we say it’s open.”

Josh Crowell, a barista and trainer at the Country Club Plaza Starbucks, was at the demonstration Saturday to support employees at the Overland Park store.

Crowell said his store held a protest earlier this month, but the protest Saturday was the first walkout in the Kansas City area that closed a store. He said he’s appalled at how Overland Park workers are being treated.

“I’m here in solidarity with the workers out here who have been treated just utterly, utterly awful. You know, our company believes in dignity and respect and that’s plainly not what they’re getting over here,” said Crowell. “So I’m here to help support them. I’m here to hold corporate accountable and I’m here because workers deserve it.”

A sign placed at the entrance of the Overland Park Starbucks drive-through announced “Store on strike.” Protestors informed motorists trying to use the drive-through that no one was in the store to make coffee and handed out fliers explaining the strike. Photo credit Bek Shakelford-Nwanganga/KCUR 89.3.

Though the protestors lined the sidewalks and partially filled the parking lot, several customers attempted to use the drive-through or walk into the empty Starbucks.

Sage Quigley, an employee at the Overland Park store, said most customers who were turned away seemed supportive.

“Most of our regulars have actually come by and shown their support. A lot of them, even before we went on strike today, they’ve come by and said, ‘Hey, we’re really proud of you guys. We support you.’” said Quigley. “We’ve had a couple, a few angry customers who tried to drive over the strike and, and come anyway. And we’re like, ‘There’s nobody in there. I’m sorry, not today. Please support us, go get coffee somewhere else.”

A representative for Starbucks spoke out against unionizing.

“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country,” the spokesperson said. “From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed.”

KCUR 89.3 is Kansas City’s NPR affiliate public radio station. You can read and listen to more of their reporting at kcur.org.