Starbucks has long portrayed itself as a queer-friendly workplace. On its own website, the company touts its benefits for trans employees, its longtime support of marriage equality, and its willingness to fly the rainbow flag at its Seattle headquarters. The Human Rights Campaign calls it one of the best places to work for LGBTQ+ equality. But members of the Starbucks union, SB Workers United, claim the company is preventing workers from displaying Pride decorations, and that some managers have actively taken down those decorations.
In a statement to Eater, SB Workers United said it has confirmed workers in 21 states have been told they cannot decorate for Pride. “In Massachusetts, some workers were told that they couldn’t put up decorations due to there not being enough ‘labor hours’ to schedule partners to decorate,” the statement reads. “In Georgia, workers were told that it was a safety reason to have workers on ladders and that workers can’t decorate for Pride because it deviates from the ‘Siren Core Pattern.’” The union posted a video to TikTok, supposedly of Pride decorations being taken down from a store window and from above the milk and sugar bar.
According to Starbucks, there has been no directive against decorating for Pride. “There has been no change to any policy on this matter and we continue to encourage our store leaders to celebrate with their communities including for U.S. Pride month in June,” Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull said in a statement to Eater.
This has also been happening at the OKC union stores, we were told from our DM we were no longer allowed to put up pride flags and decorations as we have previously. This is devastating as Oklahoma has been one of the numerous states attacking trans rights. https://t.co/jTWmXoF0l2— OKC Starbucks Workers United (@okcsbxunited) June 13, 2023
happy pride month from state street, today starbucks made our store take down all of our pride decorations! but they'll make money off of the pride cups and celebrate pride wherever it looks good for them pic.twitter.com/ckD3kRKQX6— State Street Starbucks (union era) ️ ️⚧️ (@statestreetbux) June 11, 2023
“In previous years, it has always been the policy to allow for Pride decorations,” says the union. Workers are concerned the company is, like other big brands, bowing to increased pressure from anti-LGBTQ activists. The union has started a petition to director of regional operations Brigitte Herbert, demanding store partners be allowed to decorate for Pride.
Trull further clarified that while there is a longstanding company policy to keep windows unobstructed, the company has issued no new guidance regarding Pride displays, and noted that some stores do in fact have Pride displays. “For Starbucks, U.S. Pride Month in June is just one of the moments we support and celebrate our LGBTQIA2+ partners and the community, and it’s our own partners who inform the commitments and actions we have continued to take for more than four decades.” Starbucks also posted on its website that there has been no change in guidance, and “we will continue to encourage our retail leaders to work with store teams to find ways to authentically celebrate year-round with their communities.”
When asked whether a manager could have interpreted the safety policy to conclude that any Pride decorations would be a safety issue, Trull said he couldn’t rule out that someone may have interpreted the policy that way, but “that’s not in alignment with directives we’ve given to our stores or store leaders.”
Despite the company’s claims, Starbucks worker Amanda Rivera says things indeed feel different this year. Rivera is a shift supervisor at the Ansley Mall location in Atlanta, and says that in the 11 years she’s worked for the company, workers have been encouraged to decorate for Pride as they saw fit. But recently, Rivera says, there has been a lot of turnover at her store, which she credits to Starbucks’ alleged anti-union behavior, and the new managers have not said anything about Pride. “Our former store managers would buy decorations and give us the time to hang them up,” she says, noting that managers would often pay staff to come in specifically to decorate. (Asked about staff retention, Trull pointed Eater to a transcript from Starbucks’ May earnings call, in which CEO Laxman Narasimhan said barista turnover had fallen over 9 percent from “a high” in March 2022.)
“Mostly they were just Pride flags, but we had five or six hanging from the ceiling for the better part of 10 years. And this is the first year that they didn’t even mention it,” she says. “We haven’t seen any decorations.” Rivera says that’s because store managers were told the company “doesn’t want us to decorate the stores outside of what they’ve sent us.” And while she understands the safety issue of not having anything blocking the windows, that was never where the decorations were. “We have plenty of wall space with nothing on it, and [it] would look nice with a flag.”
Another shift supervisor at the Ansley Mall location, Tyler (who declined to give a last name), confirmed that workers were told the decorations from previous years couldn’t go up. “We were told directly by our store manager, coming down from corporate, we can’t put up anything that’s not company-approved.” Eater was not able to reach a manager at the store for comment.
Alisha Humphrey, a barista at the 63rd and Grand location in Oklahoma City, claims the three union stores in that city have been told not to decorate for Pride. “Our district manager told our store manager that it was a corporate change that Starbucks made last July,” she says, and the reason given was that Starbucks wanted there to be uniformity in the stores. However, she says she’s heard different reasons from workers across the country as to why their managers have not allowed them to decorate. “It’s just very frustrating because Starbucks is still selling Pride cups, they still actively promote themselves as a Pride-inclusive company.”
SBWU also shared a photo of a partially redacted document allegedly from a Starbucks manager of an Oklahoma store, telling employees “this decision [regarding decorations for Pride] was made last year on a regional level to create consistency from store to store,” and that “we are allowed to do some decorating” on an A-frame sign.
Asked for comment on the memo provided by the union, Starbucks says in a statement it is “investigating isolated issues to ensure all stores are aligned to our longstanding guidance, which allow partners and local leaders to display their support for a variety of heritage months.” The company reiterated, “Our store leaders are each empowered to decorate their stores for heritage months, including Pride Month, within the framework of our established store safety guidelines” and within the framework of the “Siren’s Eye appearance guidelines and partner dress code policy.” Starbucks says it will be providing further guidance on in-store displays in the months ahead.
“If Starbucks was a true ally, they would stand up for us, especially during a time when LGBTQ+ people are under attack,” SBWU said on Twitter. “A company that cares wouldn’t turn their back on the LGBTQ+ community to protect their already astronomically high profits.”
There is a heightened awareness of corporate displays of pride this year, which comes on the heels of increased anti-LGBTQ legislation, and violent backlash to the tamest corporate support. Target removed a number of pro-LGBTQ items from its stores after, it says, it received threats to workers. Even after removing those items, Target received bomb threats. And Bud Light continues to face a boycott after it sent a few cans of beer to trans actress and influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Instead, buyers seem to be replacing their Bud Light with Modelo — which shares the same parent company.
“The decor was a show of pride of identity and defiance of bigotry,” Starbucks worker Matt Cartwright said in a statement released by the union. “In the same way Starbucks rejects Democracy by suppressing its workers from organizing, it has betrayed and turned its back on its queer workers, putting cowardice and greed over partners (employees).”