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‘Overworked and lied to’: Starbucks workers will try to unionize in Providence

Workers at the coffee chain’s location at One Financial in Providence announced their intention to unionize

Starbucks Coffee at One Financial in Providence.Alexa Gagosz

PROVIDENCE — Workers at the Starbucks at the ground-level store of One Financial Plaza have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize with Starbucks Workers United, marking the first of the chain’s locations in Providence to file for a union election.

Workers sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan on Monday to announce their organizing campaign, which detailed how employees are “struggling to make ends meet” while the company “tells us there are not enough hours to be given.”

“We refuse to be overworked and lied to,” the letter read. “We know the company boasts record breaking numbers each quarter. We exhaust ourselves working outside of our availability, and endlessly scrounging for extra shifts to make ends meet; which negatively impacts our health, both physically and mentally.”


For Dalia Cerezo, a shift supervisor who has worked for the Providence store for the last three years, filing a petition to the NLRB this week meant they “finally started thinking about my coworkers, and especially about myself.”

“I am finally able to feel like I have a voice,” said Cerezo. “As the working class, we need to stand up for ourselves and not be afraid of the company that is taking advantage of us.”

The employees at the One Financial location joined a nationwide movement this week where unionized Starbucks baristas have planned to hold their biggest strike yet against the coffee giant they allege refused to negotiate with cafes that voted to organize.

Thousands of employees across the United States are organizing one-day work stoppages on Thursday. The strike is being planned for the company’s Red Cup Day, which is a popular promotional event where Starbucks gives out holiday-themed reusable cups. It’s unclear if any of the company’s Rhode Island-based stores will be impacted.


Starbucks Workers United has previously attempted to organize another Rhode Island location.

The Warwick store off Bald Hill Road was the first Starbucks in the state to have workers petition for unionization in June 2022. The effort ended in a tie during the vote in September 2022, which meant the store could not be represented by a union. Yet the union has been successful in other parts of the country, prevailing in elections at more than 360 of Starbucks’ approximately 9,000 corporate-run stores in the US since December 2021.

“We deserve living wages with consistent hours and the benefits to support ourselves and families while working here without having to fear that we’ll lose those benefits every time management unilaterally cuts hours,” the letter from the Providence store to Narasimhan read.

The union has also faced some challenges, alleging the company has “no intention” of negotiating in good faith and reaching an agreement over issues that include staffing and scheduling during promotions — such as Red Cup Day. Both sides have not been able to agree on the ground rules for the meetings, such as whether workers can participate in talks remotely.

Andrew Trull, a Starbucks spokesman, told the Globe in an email that the company’s direct relationship with employees “is core to the culture and experiences in our stores.” Last week, Trull explained, the company announced additional benefits for employees, such as annual pay raises of up to 5 percent for all eligible hourly retail employees (the current average hourly employee is paid $17.50 per hour, Trull said), scheduling improvements, and tuition reimbursement.


As a next step for the Providence store, “We welcome the opportunity for partners at the store to vote in a neutral, secret ballot election conducted by the NLRB, which allows all partners to make their own informed decision regarding union representation,” said Trull. “In advance of the union representation election, our focus will be to ensure that they can trust the process is fair and their voice is heard.”

The company told Bloomberg this week that it had been “months” since the union agreed to meet for contract talks.

The union has also claimed the company has held gender-affirming care for transgender employees “hostage” as part of its union-busting campaign, in addition to firing more than 230 union leaders.

Regional directors of the NLRB have issued more than 100 complaints against the company, alleging illegal anti-union tactics including shuttering union stores and refusing to fairly negotiate with unionized cafes. In April, prosecutors with the US labor board alleged in a complaint that the coffee chain illegally “failed and refused” to collectively bargain with more than 140 sites, including the first two cafes to unionize.

In Providence, barista Juani Cantu Marroquin said organizing their store is “saying no to these unlawful labor practices and bad conditions.

“We won’t allow the company to treat us so poorly and exploit us,” Marroquin said.

This story has been updated to include comments from a Starbucks spokesman.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.