Bill Ehrin was driving southbound along McKnight Road in Ross on Saturday afternoon when he looked to his right and saw a group of eight to 10 striking workers and their supporters standing in the cold and holding signs in front of a Starbucks store. He quickly pulled over.

“You guys have cojones, being out here like this,” he told them. Ehrin is himself a member of a labor union — the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists — and told the strikers he supported their efforts. “These poor kids,” he said moments later. “They just want to be treated fairly.”

The store remained open during the action, but from 1:30 to 2 p.m., few people pulled up to the drive-thru window and no one entered the cafe. 

Two of the younger striking workers — Alyssa Bischoff, 22, and Coriander Boyle, 18 — sat near the drive-thru entrance and held signs alerting potential customers of the strike. “Honk if u support,” read Bischoff’s. Two customers eased by and didn’t engage with the workers. Boyle said others have rolled down their windows to ask questions.

“If we get to talk to them and they learn why we’re out here, they often won’t go through,” he said. “We make a personal connection.”

Workers struck seven Pittsburgh-area store locations — McKnight southbound, Market Square, East Side, Liberty Avenue and Liberty Avenue at Baum Boulevard in Bloomfield, East Carson Street on the South Side and the South Hills Village kiosk. The South Hills Village kiosk employees have yet to complete the process of unionizing but voted unanimously to strike, said Phil Halin, a staff organizer for Starbucks Workers United.

The local strikes are part of a three-day nationwide effort that began Friday and involved about 100 stores and more than 1,000 workers across the country. The action represents an escalation of the union’s year-old organizing effort and targets the coffee company during what organizers says is consistently the busiest period of the year — the hectic weekend before Christmas. Automobiles jammed McKnight Road on this day. 

“It’s normally insanely busy here,” Halin said. He stood along the side of the road holding a sign reading, “Honk if yinz are union strong.”

“It’s usually standing room only in the cafe, and the line for the drive-thru extends around the store.”

Members of the United Steelworkers stopped by earlier in the day to help man the picket line. Unionized railroad workers, prevented from striking earlier this month when President Joe Biden signed a bill making the action illegal, showed up and declared, “We’re already in a striking mood, so we’re here to help,” Halin said.

Striking worker Andi Boone showed up at 6 a.m. to picket the store. She said many of the customers who had crossed the picket line to buy coffee were driving high-end vehicles such as BMWs and Mercedes. “But then, one of our biggest supporters drives a Tesla,” she said. “During the first strike she donated $100.” On this day, the Tesla driver delivered protein bars and brownies.

Halin said the union hopes to pressure the company to cease what organizers say is an effort to stymie workers’ efforts to unionize, and to urge Starbucks to bargain in good faith. 

“Between Red Cup Day and this weekend, they announced the closure of three union stores, including the first store in Seattle that unionized,” Halin said. “They’re continuing to try to fire their way out of recognizing the union.”

Halin described recent negotiations as fruitless: “In Pittsburgh alone we’ve had three sessions involving three stores, and in each session they’ve walked out on us within five minutes.”

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at

Steve Mellon

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at