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Some Knoxville Starbucks employees join nationwide strike

They are calling this nationwide strike a "Red Cup Rebellion," in response to Starbucks' annual Red Cup Day which marks the start of the holiday cups.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — From coast to coast, from California to Boston, Starbucks employees walked out. In Knoxville, over 100 Starbucks employees walked out Thursday. Employees joined the picket lines for better working conditions, like more staff, higher pay and better equipment. It was part of the "Red Cup Rebellion," a demonstration by Starbucks Workers United.

In East Tennessee, two stores were part of the national strike — the Starbucks in Alcoa and another near West Town Mall in Montvue. 

Daniel Jones, a Starbucks supervisor at Montvue, said she wants the company to treat them more like people, instead of just a means to a profit. 

"We come in every day and work through our blood, sweat and tears. Literally all of those to keep this company afloat," Jones said. "Everybody at the store comes in and cares about this, immensely."

Jones says some issues her stores face are not having a set schedule for employees, and some workers not getting enough hours. 

"We want to see a huge change in the store with management with cleanliness with staffing," she said. "We just want to come in and actually be able to enjoy working our job — enjoy connecting with customers."

Thursday's strike comes on Starbucks' annual Red Cup Day. It's a day where customers get a red mug with the purchase of a holiday drink. This is known to be one of the company's most busiest and profitable days, with coffee lovers lining up. 

For workers, they say it's the day when they are overworked. 

"Red Cup Day is Starbucks' most notorious day. It's record profits. Customers from all over, come in for this every single year," Jones said. "And so we chose Red Cup Day because we wanted to make a statement."

In response to the strike, Starbucks said they have met and tried bargaining with Workers United representatives and are willing to return to the bargaining table again. 

The company claimed it offers the highest-rated benefits in the country for hourly employees. Their employee benefits include retirement savings, fertility coverage, health insurance and free online college education.

For employees, they said the company's brand and mission of inclusiveness are misleading. 

"I find that very frustrating because Starbucks champions itself as being very inclusive for people from all walks of life, especially people with disabilities. And I find that that's not actually what happens in stores on a day-to-day basis," said Jae Sylas, another employee at the Montvue location. 

The employees' message to Starbucks is that they want to be seen and treated better for keeping the company afloat.

"We deserve to get back every single thing that we put into the company," Sylas said. 

For these employees, challenges in making ends meet have led to them looking for other options. 

"We shouldn't be working at Starbucks and having to look at alternative options for food resources," Sylas added. "That's not the image that I think Starbucks projects itself to be."

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