Starbucks union claims dozens of stores aren’t allowed to decorate for Pride

Marchers with Starbucks pass through the landmark intersection of Hollywood and Highland during the annual Pride Parade in Los Angeles, June 12, 2022.

David Mcnew | Getty Images

Starbucks Workers United said Tuesday that dozens of the coffee chain’s U.S. stores aren’t allowing employees to decorate for Pride month.

Starbucks said in a statement to CNBC that the company unwaveringly supports the LGBTQ+ community and hasn’t changed its policies for store decorations.

“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,” the company said.

A Starbucks spokesperson told CNBC the company’s security and safety manual provides broad guidance for stores around decorations. However, local store leaders and employees have latitude to make their own decorating choices within those guidelines.

The union’s claim comes as the LGBTQ+ community faces heightened attacks, ranging from protests to legislation to physical violence. Republican state lawmakers have targeted transgender people’s medical care and drag queens’ performances. Nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures this session, according to an ACLU tally. At the same time, conservative activists have stoked backlash in recent months against corporations that have shown their support for the LGBTQ+ community, including Anheuser-Busch InBev, Kohl’s and North Face.

Starbucks has long had a reputation as a progressive company, bolstered by its history of supporting its LGBTQ+ workers, including transgender baristas. Its health benefits extended to same-sex partnerships before the U.S. legalized gay marriage in 2015. Workers have previously received buttons and attire celebrating LGBTQ+ rights. Starbucks’ insurance has covered gender reassignment surgery since 2013.

But Starbucks Workers United said baristas in at least 22 states have reported instances where district and store managers have told them they can’t decorate for Pride month or where store representatives have taken down Pride flags.

Some Massachusetts workers were told there weren’t enough labor hours to schedule partners to decorate, the union said. Managers told employees in Maryland some people didn’t feel represented by the “umbrella of pride,” according to the labor group.

In Oklahoma, workers were told restrictions on decorating were out of a concern for safety after recent attacks at Target stores, the union said. In late May, Target pulled some of its Pride merchandise, citing threats against its employees. Some of the retailer’s locations in the South also moved Pride collections to less visible areas on the floor. The Washington Post reported Target stores in at least five states were evacuated this weekend after bomb threats.

Starbucks workers in Oklahoma were also prohibited from hanging Pride flags in store windows. Starbucks policy prohibits blocking windows to ensure baristas have a clear view of the area outside stores.

The clash over Pride decorations also comes as Starbucks continues to battle its baristas over unionization. More than 300 company-owned locations have voted to unionize, but no stores have signed a collective bargaining agreement with Starbucks yet.

The union has accused Starbucks of delaying negotiations, which the company denies. Baristas have been trying to use public pressure to bring the coffee giant to the negotiating table.