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UW students want school to stop serving Starbucks coffee

A Starbucks coffee truck continues to serve students and staff in an otherwise nearly deserted Red Square on the University of Washington campus Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson
A Starbucks coffee truck continues to serve students and staff in an otherwise nearly deserted Red Square on the University of Washington campus Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, in Seattle.

University of Washington students, staff and alumni are asking that the school terminate its contract with the coffee giant Starbucks. They say allegations of union busting make the Seattle-based company unfit to serve those on campus.

In a letter that’s currently circulating online, UW students point out that the school’s 10-year contract with Starbucks is set to expire at the end of June. The petitioners want the university to find an alternative supplier of coffee and tea beverages as soon as that contract ends.

The UW has three licensed Starbucks cafes. Workers there are technically employees of the school’s housing and food services, according to the Service Employees International Union.

The Washington Federation of State Employees represents regular employees at the university cafes, but not student employees. SEIU is affiliated with Starbucks Workers United, the labor group organizing the union effort at Starbucks cafes across the country.

Sofia Torres, a first year political science major, said she doesn’t expect their demand to create much backlash.

“I believe that once an ethical alternative is put in place and students kind of realize that they can have the same thing without contributing to these practices that’ll we will be okay,” Torres said.

"We think UW has a responsibility to stick to its code, and Starbucks is clearly in violation of it because of its union-busting campaign and tactics," she continued.

The UW’s code of conduct calls for socially responsible business practices. Starbucks has been accused of violating federal labor laws hundreds of times by refusing to fairly bargain with newly unionized stores across the country, including in Seattle.

As of May 19, there are more than 500 open or settled unfair labor practice charges across almost 40 states against Starbucks, according to spokesperson Kayla Blado of the National Labor Relations Board.

The board has ruled against the company in two cases, including in one involving workers in Seattle. Last year, a three-member panel found that Starbucks had unlawfully refused to bargain with the union at its Reserve Roastery.

Starbucks has filed 110 charges against the union, but most of those have been dismissed.

UW students plan to deliver their letter to school president Ana Mari Cauce later this month. Starbucks, a major employer in the region, has a prominent partnership with Washington's largest public university.

In a statement, Victor Balta, a spokesperson for the university, said "Starbucks has been a positive contributor to our university community and their partnership has supported a wide range of UW programs, including scholarships offered through the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity and support for the UW Food Pantry, the Environmental Innovation Challenge, and the Hometown Heroes salute to veterans, among others."

"If and when we receive the letter, we will review it closely," Balta said.

Starbucks did not comment on the UW students' effort but said it is actively bargaining with workers, including those in Seattle.

University of California and Cornell University studentshave also pushed back on having Starbucks on campus.

Corrected: May 24, 2023 at 5:46 AM PDT
Clarified the union UW cafe employees are part of — Washington Federation of State Employees.
Updated: May 23, 2023 at 3:23 PM PDT
Additional detail about SEIU's affiliation with Starbucks Workers United.
Lilly Ana Fowler covers social justice issues investigating inequality with an emphasis on labor and immigration. Story tips can be sent to