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Abi Scheppmann holds a sign reading “Exploitation is a Real Grind” during the Strike with Pride demonstration outside the downtown Iowa City Starbucks, June 30, 2023. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

The sky was overcast early Friday morning, but spirits were high on the picket-line outside the downtown Iowa City Starbucks. The store’s workers were joining unionized workers at 150 other Starbucks across the nation as part of Starbucks Workers United’s Strike with Pride.

The national union for Starbucks workers called for the labor action to protest in response to reports that the coffee chain banned Pride Month decorations in stores located in conservative areas.

Starbucks has denied any such ban ever existed, and a corporate spokesperson said the company continues to “unwaveringly support” the LGBTQ community. According to the company, store leaders are able to decorate their stores as they want, provided the decorations meet safety standards, and Starbuck corporate leadership “encourage[s] our store leaders to celebrate with their communities including for U.S. Pride month in June.”

But there are no Pride decorations in the Starbucks at the corner of Burlington and Clinton, even though there have been in previous years.

“We’ve been told it’s the district manager who told our managers that we’re not allowed to decorate,” said Abi Scheppmann, one of the Iowa City Starbucks workers on the picket line.

“We want to be able to decorate and show that this is a safe place for LGBTQ workers and customers,” she said. “That’s what we really want to do. We feel it’s our right to be able to do that.”

The picket line started at 7 a.m. on Friday, and had been going for 90 minutes when Scheppmann spoke to Little Village. She said passersby had been very supportive of the strikers. There was no problem with people trying to cross the picket line, because the store, which normally opens at 5:30 a.m., was still closed.

The first picketing only lasted until 10 a.m., and the store did eventually open. Another three-hour picket line was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.

Scheppmann was a leader in the unionizing drive that culminated in May with a unanimous vote by the workers at the downtown location to join Starbucks Worker United. The store was the first, and so far only, Starbucks location in Iowa to vote to join the union.

But Scheppmann said she’s heard from workers at other Iowa Starbucks who have expressed interest in the union.

“We’ve had a lot of positive support from baristas at other stores,” she explained. “Especially now, striking for Pride, a lot of baristas at other stores are LGBTQ and they’ve said they really appreciate us trying to stand up for them, as well as just our store.”

Starbucks workers on strike, June 30, 2023. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

The strikers were not only protesting the lack of Pride decoration, but they were also speaking out against the corporate coffee giant’s hostility to unions. Starbucks has been repeatedly cited by the National Labor Relations Board for illegal action against unionized workers since the first store union drive began in Buffalo, New York in 2021. Since the Buffalo store organized, workers in approximately 400 stores around the country have voted to join the union.

Scheppmann realizes that despite the vote in May, there is still a long way to go before Starbucks recognizes her and her fellow workers as an official bargaining unit.

“It seems like it’s who can last longer, and I think we’re in a way better position,” she said. “They’ve put us through a lot already, even before our unionization effort started — just dealing with hour cuts, poor staffing and asking more of us than we are paid to do. So, there’s a lot they are going to try to do that we’ve already put up with and can deal with.

“I don’t think we’re stopping or slowing down any time soon.”