The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Campus Starbucks seemingly unaffected despite brand-related boycotts

GVL / Sam Nelson

Story Revision 2/9- The original article attributed the walk-outs on Starbucks’ “Red Cup Day” (Nov. 16, 2023) to the Starbucks Workers United (SWU) union’s lawsuit against Starbucks on trademark grounds. The walkout was instead part of ongoing protests around contract and worker negotiations. 

Additionally, the article originally stated that Red Cup Day was the release of “new product designs and special menu items for the holiday season.” Starbucks’ holiday drink line was released on Nov. 2, 2023. 

The Starbucks at Grand Valley State University is one of the most frequented places on campus, and has continued to be despite protests of the company beginning late last year. 

After the Starbucks Workers United (SWU) union posted a message on social media referencing Israel’s military action, humanitarian crisis taking place in Gaza and showing support for Palestinian people, SWU was sued by the Starbucks corporation for trademark infringement. The union, which helps organize employees of almost 400 Starbucks stores across the U.S., filed a countersuit in efforts to protect its right to keep its logo (which is similar to Starbucks). The union also argued that Starbucks was defaming them by disputing SWU’s support of Palestinians. These events led many people to boycott the coffee chain to show support for the Palestinian people.

Starbucks has reportedly lost more than $11 million since October, taking a big hit on the brand’s “Red Cup Day.” Normally, Red Cup Day is when Starbucks announces new product designs and special menu items for the holiday season. Additionally, Starbucks gives out reusable cups first-come-first-serve to anyone who orders a holiday drink. Last November, many employees used this day to stage a walkout to protest Starbucks’ response to the post from SWU. Employees also brought attention to the alleged unfair treatment of Starbucks workers, citing underpaying and overworking as prominent issues.

Starbucks has still not made a contract with any of the hundreds of stores in the country that voted to unionize. The company also released a number of new offers, deals and specials in attempts to recoup the millions of dollars in losses from boycotts, which included half-priced drinks on Thursdays and some seasonal “buy one get one” opportunities.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has resonated with many students. Student organizations, such as the GVSU Young Democratic Socialists of America/Students for Democratic Society, have stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people on social media and organized campus rallies.

As the crisis is contentious for some students, there were questions of how Starbucks as a brand would fare on campus. 

GVL / Sam Nelson

Student workers at the GVSU Starbucks are not part of the SWU union. A student employee at the location, Anthony Erlandson, said that despite controversy surrounding the global crisis, there have not been noticeable differences in business for the store, and even said campus Starbucks staff is currently at max capacity.

“I’ve noticed that certain regulars stopped going when the boycott began, but we’ve still been consistently as busy as before the boycott which is a little disheartening,” Erlandson said.

Erlandson said one possibility for the non-reactions of students could be related to the use of GVSU’s campus currency: dining dollars. They speculate the use of dining dollars could contribute to students’ spending habits not being affected. Since it doesn’t feel like “actual money,” students might not be as inclined to change their spending. 

Erlandson said they think a shortage of alternative dining options could contribute to the lack of response from the GVSU community. The only other coffee shop on campus is Java City, they explained, so if students are looking for coffee on campus they have to choose one or the other.

“For the boycott, I’m assuming a lot of students don’t care enough to avoid Starbucks, along with the fact that there’s a major shortage of places to eat on campus,” said Erlandson. “As workers under Laker Food Co. instead of being a corporate store, we lose out on a lot of our protections (and) we would be at risk of losing our jobs or other punishment from Laker Food Co. if we walked out.”

Employees at the GVSU location warned that their bosses may be reluctant to speak with any press for fear of backlash from the corporation. One Starbucks manager responded to our interview requests and said they were not a spokesperson for the company and that all requests from the Lanthorn be submitted to Laker Food Co. instead.

“I worked Red Cup Day, and we did not have a boycott as Aramark and Laker Food Co. are hostile towards any sort of unionization and there was a very high chance everyone who walked out would end up getting fired,” said Erlandson. “Personally, I have not purchased anything from Starbucks since the boycott, as I don’t want to support a company who sues their own union over being pro-Palestine.”

As for GVSU, the response of both student Starbucks consumers and Starbucks remains limited. However, many student employees across campus feel they identify with the movement, and they deserve higher wages.  

“The payment at all food service jobs on campus is bullshit. We are severely overworked for minimal pay, and the reason there’s such high turnover is because everyone is overworked for less than $12 an hour,” said Erlandson. “GVSU and Laker Food Co. simply don’t care about anything besides maximizing their profits, and they’re perfectly fine with exploiting students to do so.”

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