Organized Starbucks workers, angry over claims the company has banned Pride decorations in some of its stores, initiated a wave of strikes last week. The wave began in Seattle on Friday, and by Sunday it had reached Pittsburgh.

Members of Starbucks Workers United struck seven local stores. At the Market Square Starbucks, workers showed up early in the morning and held signs reading “Workers rights are trans and queer rights” and asked approaching customers to buy their coffee elsewhere for the day. 

The union said last week 3,500 workers will strike more than 150 stores in a number of cities over the next several days. The action is an unfair labor practice strike, the union said, over the company’s unilateral change in Pride decoration policy and refusal to engage in good faith bargaining with its organized workers.

In addition to the Market Square Starbucks, targeted locations in the Pittsburgh area included stores in Bloomfield, South Side, East Side, Peters, Liberty Avenue and Baum Boulevard, and Amos Hall on Pitt’s Oakland campus.

Union organizer Tori Tambellini, standing outside the Market Square Starbucks late Sunday morning, estimated that about 80% of the customers who had approached the store decided against entering after seeing the picket line and talking to the striking workers. Starbucks staffed the store with managers, Tambellini said.

Around 11 a.m., one of the managers posted a note on the front door explaining the store was “temporarily closed.” Others could be seen cleaning up behind the counter, mopping the floor and placing filled garbage bags near the front door. The store normally closes at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

“All those items — iced coffee, teas, creams, chocolate sauces — it all has to be thrown away at the end of the day,” Tambellini said. “It’s such a waste of money.”

The company denies the workers’ claims that it’s refusing to allow employees to decorate stores to celebrate Pride month. 

“We want to be crystal clear — Starbucks has been and will continue to be at the forefront of supporting the LGBTQIA2+ community, and we will not waver in that commitment!” read a statement released on the company’s website on Friday. “Despite today’s public commentary, there has been no change to any of our policies as it relates to our inclusive store environments, our company culture and the benefits we offer our partners.”

The statement was signed by Laxman Narasimhan, CEO, and Sara Trilling, executive vice president and president of Starbucks North America. 

Striking Starbucks workers display their banner at the Market Square store. From left are Oliver Blackstock, Josh Viator, Cayla Enis and organizer Tori Tambellini. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

“Starbucks is adamantly denying it, but if you take a look inside, the proof is right there,” Tambellini said as she stood outside the Market Square store with three striking workers shortly before noon on Sunday. Indeed, a glance through a front window of the store revealed no Pride flags or other signs of Pride support inside the cafe.

“Last year, there were dozens of Pride flags,” Tambellini said.

She and the other workers passed out cards explaining why they were on strike.

“Starbucks must show up for all of us or none of us,” the cards read. “They can’t tokenize queer workers and use us for good press then take away our healthcare & throw us away the second we organize.”

It ended with a call for the company to “meet us at the bargaining table and provide real protections for queer and trans workers.”

Several minutes before noon, a middle-aged man approached the store. The striking baristas spoke with him briefly, then he said to them, “I hope it works out for you.”

As he walked away, the man said, “These kids now, they don’t play. My generation, we let these companies get away with everything.”

Starbucks Workers United organizer Tori Tambellini, right, explains the strike to Jennifer Noah and Ryan Devereaux. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

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