UCLA, UC Riverside students petition to remove Starbucks from campuses


They want the licensing agreements suspended until the company ends its alleged union-busting campaign

Kevin Smith | San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Students at UCLA and UC Riverside are demanding their schools cut ties with Starbucks until the coffee chain ends an alleged union-busting campaign against its baristas. In a show of solidarity, the students plan to deliver petitions with more than 1,500 signatures to the two universities this week.

“The issues of Starbucks workers and the experiences that students face are intersectional, and we must be in solidarity,” said David Ramirez, a UCLA student, former Starbucks worker and member of UCLA Students Against Starbucks. Starbucks spokesman Andrew Trull addressed union concerns in a statement released Monday, Jan. 29.

“As a company, we respect our partners’ right to organize, freely associate, engage in lawful union activities and bargain collectively without fear of reprisal or retaliation — and remain committed to our stated aim of reaching ratified contracts for union-represented stores in 2024,” he said. The move to organize has grown rapidly in recent years with workers at more than 385 Starbucks stores unionizing with Starbucks Workers United as they lobby for higher wages, increased staffing and consistent scheduling, despite heavy pushback from the coffee chain.

Locally, that includes locations in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Huntington Beach. The push for higher pay and better working conditions has resulted in the unionization of more than 9,500 Starbucks employees, according to the Starbucks Workers United website. The UCLA petition, which will be delivered Tuesday, Jan. 30 to the board of directors for Associated Students UCLA, demands that the school divest from Starbucks and terminate its licensing agreement with the company. The UC Riverside petition, to be delivered the following day to Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox and top decision-makers at the university, will likewise demand that the university not renew its contract with the coffee chain.

Speakers at both actions will highlight the employees’ bargaining demands and share stories about what unions mean to the next generation of workers, many of whom will be college students. “When we graduate, we want to enter a workforce where workers have a real voice on the job with their employers,” said Eren Whitfield, a UCR Student and member of UCR Students Against Starbucks. “Bringing people together for a common purpose has been our main goal.” Workers at a Starbucks at 5757 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles voted to unionize earlier this month, marking the 33rd California location to join Starbucks Workers United.

The National Labor Relations Board must still certify the outcome of their vote. Andrew Gillespie, a shift supervisor at the coffee shop, said management tried to dissuade employees from joining the union. “At first, they said they wanted to let us know that the company was behind us,” the 26-year-old LA resident said. “But then they started posting signs and said our benefits could go away if we unionized. They also said, ‘We can make that raise you’ve been asking for happen if you vote no.’”

Workers at more than 385 Starbucks locations have unionized with Starbucks Workers United, according to the union’s website. Employees at a Los Angeles location are seen here after filing a petition earlier this month with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize. Courtesy Photo by Andrew Gillespie

The raise management was referring to is an automatic pay hike workers already get each year, Gillespie said. Starbucks disputes that point and said it announced in November that all U.S. employees would receive a minimum of a 3% annual wage increase. Starbucks said it “will give all union-represented partners annual wage increases that are aligned to previous, historical practices for each store” — which may differ based on when workers began to pursue union representation.

“The starting wage for Starbucks employees in California is $17 an hour, but under the contract we drafted, no one would make less than $20 an hour,” Gillespie said. Starbucks’ board of directors recently released the findings of an independent third party assessment on the company’s adherence to its workers’ right to collective bargaining. The evaluation from Thomas M. Mackall, a senior counsel to the U.S. Council on International Business, found “there is no evidence Starbucks has or has used an ‘anti-union playbook,’ and that “the company has provided consistent reassurances to partners that Starbucks respects their right to collectively organize through fairly conducted elections.”

UC Riverside officials said full-time, non-management workers at the Starbucks on campus are university employees and are already represented by a union. “UC Riverside’s contract with Starbucks for its on-campus location expires in summer 2025,” they said. “Renewal conversations have not yet been initiated by the university, nor by Starbucks.” In November, UCLA students introduced a resolution at the student council calling on the university’s administration to kick Starbucks off of campus as a consequence for its “illegal union busting.”

That resulted in administrative law judges finding the company has “broken the law more than 270 times,” union officials said. In May 2023, students at Cornell University successfully demanded their university cut ties with Starbucks after the company closed all three of Ithaca’s stores – all of which had formed unions. By August 2023, the students won a victory when Cornell said it wouldn’t renew its existing contract with Starbucks when it expires in 2025.

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