Starbucks Workers Strike at SW 5th and Oak Ahead of Store Closure

Photo courtesy of Starbucks Workers United
Starbucks workers picket in front of the SW 5th and Oak store, due to close permanently on June 2.

The company says the store is closing due to safety concerns, but workers say it’s a response to a union drive.

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The Starbucks at SW 5th and Oak will permanently close on June 2, becoming the third store in Portland shuttered by the company in recent months. 

On Tuesday, workers gathered on the street outside of the store for a strike and protest, holding signs that read “Starbucks stop union busting” and “An injury to one is an injury to all.” 

This follows a string of rallies, strikes, and protests by Starbucks workers in response to the company closing stores and firing employees across the country following unionization efforts. 

The SW 5th and Oak location has been the site of multiple labor protests, including last year’s May Day rally and a walk-out in November as part of the “Red Cup Rebellion” strike. The company claims the closure is due to safety concerns, but workers are confident it’s a union busting move. 

“Long ago, we had numerous safety concerns,” Lunette Wimberly, lead organizer at the store, tells Oregon Business. “And we as a team decided to come together to create a safe space. And now after so much work and dedication, they’re just going to close us.” The store voted in favor of unionizing in May of 2022. 

According to Starbucks Workers United, a wave of union elections across the U.S. in 2022 and 2023 has prompted retaliation from Starbucks in the form of firing participants, cutting hours, firing pro-union baristas and closing stores. 

The union says three union organizers have been fired from Portland Starbucks locations in recent months, including Arthur Pratt, a six-year employee fired from the West 23rd and Burnside St. location for minor attendance infractions (one of which happened a year prior); Matt Thornton, union organizer at the Jantzen Beach store; and Heather Clark, union organizer at the Clackamas Crossing store. 

During a March Senate hearing, Senator Bernie Sanders called Starbucks’ response to unionization “the most aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign in the modern history of our country.” 

In a statement from the company regarding the May 5 announcement that several stores will be closed across the U.S., including the location at SW 5th, Starbucks says that counter to union claims, the decision was made based on a regular business review. The company says “extraordinary efforts” have been made to support Portland-area stores and mediate safety issues, including “closing patios, modifying store formats and proactively engaging with local law enforcement and the community on other collaborative solutions.” But efforts at the SW 5th store were not successful. 

Additionally, the company states that “Starbucks has proposed more than 425 single-store bargaining sessions and has appeared in-person and ready to bargain at more than 105 sets of negotiations, to-date. According to Starbucks, Workers United has only confirmed 22% of the bargaining sessions proposed by the company. 

The stated proposals of the SBWU for partners across the country include the right to organize, protections against racial harassment and bigotry from customers, zero tolerance of sexual harassment, a process to fix safety issues at stores, affordable and 100% employer-paid care, and seniority wages that reward longevity, among others. 

At SW 5th and Oak in Portland, where the store closure is already confirmed, workers’ mission for the strike and rally is to negotiate employment at different area stores for employees, along with details regarding their schedules and working conditions. 

Company representatives will meet with union organizers of SW 5th and Oak tomorrow to begin effects bargaining discussions. Workers announced midday on Tuesday that they will continue their strike on Wednesday. “We’re in bargaining tomorrow and we want to bring all pressure to bear for a fair outcome,” said Wimberly.