Starbucks denies claims that it’s banning Pride displays but union organizers are skeptical

Pedestrians pass a Starbucks in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan, Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in New York. Starbucks is denying union organizers' claims that it banned LGBTQ+ Pride displays in its U.S. stores after Target and other brands experienced backlash. The Seattle coffee giant says there has been no change to its policy and it encourages store leaders to celebrate Pride in June. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)(AP/John Minchillo)
Starbucks is denying union organizers’ claims that it is banning Pride displays in its U.S. stores in the wake of Target and other brands experiencing a backlash.

But Starbucks Workers United, the union organizing U.S. Starbucks stores, says store managers around the country have been curtailing or removing displays during a monthlong celebration of LGBTQ+ people. In some cases, the union said, managers told workers that Pride displays were a safety concern, citing recent incidents at Target where some angry customers tipped over merchandise and confronted workers.

“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 Seattle coffee giant said Tuesday in a statement.

Starbucks has been outspoken in its support for LGBTQ+ employees for decades and said Tuesday that support is “unwavering.” It extended full health benefits to same-sex partners in 1988 and added health coverage for gender reassignment surgery in 2013.

The company is also currently selling Pride-themed tumblers in its stores designed by Toronto artist Tim Singleton, who is gay.

But Ian Miller, a union organizer and Starbucks supervisor in Olney, Maryland, said the company’s tone has changed this year, citing his own store manager informing him that he needed prior approval to put up Pride decorations and that the company was seeking more “uniformity” in its stores.

The manager also allegedly cited the backlash against Bud Light when it partnered with a transgender influencer and then tried to walk back its support. Its U.S. sales subsequently plummeted.

Miller said the manager ultimately let an employee put up small rainbow flags in the store, but the company credit card wasn’t used to buy them, as had been allowed in the past.

“It’s disrespectful and counterintuitive,” Miller said.

Miller’s manager declined to comment Tuesday when contacted by The Associated Press. Starbucks didn’t respond to questions about the policies at Miller’s store.

Miller’s store is one of more than 300 Starbucks stores that has voted to unionize since 2021. Starbucks opposes the unionization effort.

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