Starbucks red cups: How do you get them and why are they controversial

Starbucks employees went on strike on the company’s annual Red Cup Day, a holiday promotion in which customers receive a free reusable red cup if they buy a holiday-themed drink.

On Red Cup Day customers flock to the nearest Starbucks in droves, eager to get their hands on a free red cup. You can get your hands on the free cup at your local Starbucks whether online, in-person, or via delivery while supplies last throughout the day, according to the company website.

Customers can also bring in their reusable red cups from previous years - or any clean cup for that matter - and receive a $.10 discount on their beverage and an additional 25 Bonus Stars for Starbucks Rewards for members who use the Starbucks app.

But what is usually an exciting time of year for Starbucks aficionados is somewhat marred by the thousands of Starbucks workers electing to go on strike on Thursday 16 November like they did the year before.

Many were excited about getting a freebie, but some were unsure how to proceed out of respect for worker’s rights.

The strike will be the biggest work stoppage in the company’s history, according to ABC.

A representative from the union, Starbucks Worker’s United, told the outlet that workers nationwide in 30 cities - including New York and Los Angeles - started striking early Wednesday and plan to remain on strike through Thursday.

Revenue is ordinarily at an all-time high during promotional events like Red Cup Day, but with the influx of customers, many Starbucks stores are too understaffed to meet the high volume in demand.

“It’s degrading and embarrassing to work in stores that are so short-staffed on promotional days that we give customers poor service,” Moe Mills - an employee from a Starbucks in St Louis - explained to the outlet. “When customers spend $10 or $12 on a drink, they shouldn’t have to wait 45 minutes or get a lukewarm drink when it should be hot.”

Union leaders alleged to the Washington Post that the company has been illegally stalling and undermining the bargaining process for workers’ first contract, which would lead to more regulations to ease the pressure on workers during lucrative holiday promotions like Red Cup Day.

Jasmine Leli, a barista from a Starbucks in Buffalo, told the outlet: “I think Starbucks thinks this movement isn’t going to get bigger, that we’re not strong, but we are in this fight and we’re not going anywhere. We just want safer working conditions, better working conditions for everyone.”

“Someone and 20 of their friends can put in a mobile order and then a barista is doing the work of two to three people,” she added. “It’s a mess at the end of the day.”

Workers United has reportedly organised strikes including more than 360 stores employing roughly 9,000 workers since 2021. Unfortunately, neither party has made headway with negotiations in the past couple of years, and both parties have pointed fingers at each other over failure to reach an agreement over a labour contract.

In a statement to ABC, a company spokesperson reportedly rebuked claims that understaffing was an issue during promotional days, asserting that Starbucks “includes 25% more partners than a typical weekday in anticipation of serving additional customers.”

“We understand that these promotional days change store patterns and traffic, and that’s why our retail leaders have the flexibility to build and adjust staffing schedules,” the company spokesperson added.

The Red Cup Day strike comes on the heels of workers across multiple industries nationwide - notably including the entertainment, health care, and auto manufacturing industries - who have gone on to strike and negotiate union contracts with record wage increases to great success.