A union supporter holds a sign in front of the Starbucks at Saluda Pointe in Lexington, South Carolina, on Nov. 16. Employees at the coffee shop walked out of the store in the early morning as a part of a nationwide strike. (Photos by Sydney Dunlap/Carolina News and Reporter)

Customers gathered across the country Thursday in anticipation of Starbucks’ Red Cup Day, when anyone who orders a holiday drink also receives a free reusable cup. 

But at the Saluda Pointe Starbucks in Lexington, some customers left empty handed after employees walked out at 6:15 a.m. as a part of a nationwide labor strike. 

Local employees hope the walk out will push Starbucks to implement more consistent hours, increase pay and strengthen health, safety and anti-discrimination policies.

The strike involved more than 200 Starbucks stores across the country, including one other South Carolina store in the Upstate.

Vijay Tripathi is the lead organizer for the Starbucks Workers United, which coordinated the Midlands campaign.

This is the second year that Starbucks workers nationally organized strikes during the popular Red Cup Day, said Tripathi, who worked at Starbucks for four years and was at the Saluda Pointe protest. 

Starbucks Workers United members are hoping to encourage the company to negotiate better conditions for employees, he said. 

“It’s the busiest time, and that’s where we really wanted to withhold our labor and make them understand,” Tripathi said. “You can’t make money if we’re not working for you.”

In a statement emailed to the Carolina News and Reporter, Starbucks said it has had success negotiating with workers not affiliated with Workers United who approached leaders with “professionalism and an actual interest in discussing partner priorities.”

“Unfortunately, the union’s rhetoric misses the mark,” it said. “Despite repeated weekly efforts to schedule bargaining sessions for stores represented by Workers United, their representatives haven’t shown up or agreed to meet to progress negotiations for any store in more than five months.”

The company said it expects to reach agreements with the subset of stores it has worked with.

On Thursday, Saluda Pointe employees collectively clocked out at 6:15 a.m. before presenting a list of demands to the store’s owner and leaving the building. The store was closed until about 10 a.m., until managers and partners from other stores arrived to help staff re-open the coffee shop.

The location closed again later in the day.

Jay Glenn is an employee at Saluda Pointe’s Starbucks and one of the people who walked out of the store. 

Workers have been planning what Glenn called the overdue strike for more than a month, he said. 

He enjoys his job at but feels work conditions have gone downhill, he said. 

“If we can get that kind of a realistic view of what’s actually possible, we can get back to it,” Glenn said. “It’s not a bad place to work. It’s a good job, you know. It has been a better company in the past. And it’s, like, we’re just hoping to kind of get back to that whole thing.”

Workers at the Saluda Pointe store unionized in September. They’re struggling to make ends meet amid understaffing and reduced hours – and therefore reduced pay, Tripathi said. And they’re having trouble talking to management, he said.

Glenn said he is hoping the strike results in better communication, transparency and a chance to “start over.” 

“We don’t have a lot of the things that we need to succeed in there,” Glenn said. “So it’s like, you know, it’s nice to have these things. But first we need a place where we can actually function and work.”

Members of the Columbia chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America joined workers protesting in front of the Saluda Pointe store. 

Fiona Martin, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, said she attended the strike to show the workers they have support from people other than their co-workers.

She said she hopes customers who continued to buy coffee will be more considerate of employees. 

“I hope they think about the conditions of the workers and understand when the workers have better conditions — and that means they have pay that’s a living wage — that they get better service,” Martin said. “But that doesn’t happen when they’re struggling to pay their rent or pay for food.”

Employees resumed normal work conditions at 5 a.m. on Friday. 

Tripathi said workers were nervous to attend work after the strike but are hopeful to see progress in the future.

“They feel really empowered,” Tripathi said.


A group of Starbucks employees and union supporters hold signs encouraging passing cars not to stop at the Saluda Pointe Starbucks during the company’s red cup day.

A member of the Columbia branch of the Democratic Socialists of America holds a sign encouraging drivers to honk to support striking Starbucks workers.

Fiona Martin reacts as a passing car honks for the group of employees and union supporters in front of the Saluda Pointe Starbucks.

A sign indicates the seating area of the Saluda Pointe Starbucks is closed.