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Independence Starbucks workers strike over the company’s threat to withhold health care insurance

Five people stand in front of Starbucks holding signs against the company's alleged union busting. Another sits behind them.
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Starbucks workers at the 39th Street location in Independence went on strike in protest of the company's alleged unfair labor practices that prevent them from getting health care.

Baristas say union-busting tactics make them ineligible for travel coverage for abortions and gender-affirming care in states where those are banned.

Starbucks workers at the 39th Street storefront in Independence went on strike Wednesday to protest the company’s threat to withhold health care amidst union negotiations. Workers say Starbucks corporate is threatening to withhold travel benefits for abortion and gender-affirming care to unionizing stores in states where that health care is banned.

The store at 39th Street and Arrowhead Avenue became the first café in Missouri to unionize in April.

Workers planned the strike — which took place from 4-8 p.m. — to take place alongside Planned Parenthood’s national walkout against the overturning of Roe v. Wade at the same time.

Skylar Mickey is a barista at the café and organized the strike. She said she’s angry that she might not receive vital health care because she belongs to a union.

“I understand that Missouri had trigger laws in place, but Starbucks not being willing to help us out, especially because they're willing to help other stores that aren't unionized is just union busting,” Mickey said. “There's no other answer to that.”

In June, Starbucks said that it will reimburse abortion travel expenses for employees enrolled in the company’s health care plan if there isn’t a legal provider in the worker’s state or within 100 miles of their home.

But the company also said it couldn’t “make promises of guarantees about any benefits” for unionized stores due to the bargaining process.

In a statement, Starbucks said that health care eligibility is determined on a twice-yearly basis, not a weekly set number of hours.

"All partners enrolled in Starbucks healthcare will have access to these benefits. In stores represented by a union, federal law requires good faith collective bargaining over all wages, benefits and working conditions," the statement read. "What we can say for sure, is that Starbucks will always bargain in good faith."

A sign placed in the middle of the Starbucks drive-thru lane reads: "our store is temporarily closed"
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Workers closed the Starbucks store in Independence from 4-8 p.m. on strike against the company's alleged unfair labor practices.

But Mickey said negotiations aren't moving forward.

“The contract, I think, is definitely being held against us,” Mickey said. “We really haven't made a lot of progress, especially due to the amount of union busting in our store. Our upper management is not pro-union, obviously, so stuff like that is a big part of what's preventing us from getting a contract.”

Mickey said management has been cutting hours to prevent workers from being eligible for the health care program that includes the benefits for abortion and gender-affirming care.

Other area Starbucks workers have made similar allegations about the company's union-busting tactics. In May, The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against two other area Starbucks— a café at 75th Street & I-35 in Overland Park and the store on the Country Club Plaza — for preventing employees from exercising their legal right to organize.

Mickey said for many employees at the storefront, where starting pay is $12 an hour, it's unaffordable to be a part of the health care program.

“Any worker here who's capable of being pregnant or is in need of gender-affirming care is definitely at risk here with these benefits being threatened just for being part of a union store,” Mickey said. “If one of us were to need that [care] it's a lot less accessible for us, especially now with Missouri completely having outlawed abortion. A lot of baristas can't afford to travel out of state without this benefit.”

Currently, Planned Parenthood’s health center and the Center for Women’s Health in Overland Park, Kansas, offer abortion services just over the state line in Kansas.

But that could change after August 2, when voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to override a state supreme court ruling that established a right to abortion in the state.

Mickey said she and other workers at the Independence store won’t stop fighting to receive equal access to the company’s healthcare.

“We aren't letting them take advantage of us,” Mickey said. “We're not letting them push us around, cut our hours. That's not okay with us. We are striking, we are fighting back against this and this is not okay.”

Updated: July 13, 2022 at 8:59 PM CDT
This story was updated to include a response from Starbucks.
When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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