On October 11 2022, footage from TikTok was shared to Imgur with a descriptive on-screen top caption — “Starbucks corporate is leaving mobile orders on when workers are on strike”:
As we indicated in a September 2021 fact check, ongoing efforts to unionize Starbucks workers began in December 2021. As of early September 2022, more than 200 Starbucks locations successfully unionized as a part of that effort, the first in Buffalo, New York.
On TikTok, Starbucks Workers United (@sbworkersunited) published the clip on October 10 2022. After “Starbucks corporate is leaving mobile orders on while workers are on strike,” a bottom caption added: “meaning customers are placing orders & paying for drinks that will not be made.”
In the clip, a striking Starbucks worker in a pink hat said that Starbucks was “defrauding” its “loyal customers” by enabling the option to place and pay for orders at closed locations. The worker added that the location in the video was the first unionized Starbucks in Buffalo:
The Starbucks on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, New York has been on strike since last Thursday [October 6 2022]. We’re striking to protest Starbucks’ retaliatory tactics, and continued abuse towards us for becoming the first unionized store in the United States.
Yesterday morning [October 9 2022], [Starbucks] decided to turn on our mobile order pay system, knowing that we were still striking and the store was closed. This meant that Starbucks customers would place their order without arriving, pay for it, and then not be able to pick up their items. They would then take out that aggression on the striking workers.
This morning [October 10 2022] they did it again. Behind me is the mobile order pay screen. You can see that it is full of orders that have already been placed this morning. This store is still closed, and we are still on strike, and these customers will not be able to pick up these products.
Starbucks not only doesn’t care about their workers and our rights, they also don’t care about their loyal customers. They are continuing to defraud their customers by having them place orders and pay for them, and then not be able to actually retrieve those items.
This is completely disgusting, Starbucks. This is not a good look. Get it together.
On October 11 2022, Buffalo-area outlet WIBV published a story (“Starbucks mobile ordering leaves customers at striking Elmwood store empty-handed”) which reiterated the TikTok post’s claims, reporting:
“As the first unionized store in the country, we’ve faced continual abuse and retaliation from corporate since the moment we won, which was last December , that has escalated in the last week in the form of frivolous write-ups,” [worker Michele Eisen] added.
Elmwood Starbucks Workers United employees and others hit the picket line starting last Thursday [October 6 2022].
Eisen believes the online ordering system being kept on for some of Sunday and Monday [October 9 and 10 2022] was a tactic to turn customers against the union.
“So there’s, in my opinion, there’s no way that this is not a deliberate act,” she said. “My suspicion is that they were turning them on just long enough to give us a backlog of orders. So that when we were starting our picketing, you know, there was a few dozen customers who had just placed orders who were now coming up and being upset.”
WIBV paraphrased Starbucks’ response to the workers’ claim that the mobile order pay system was being used punitively. Starbucks confirmed that the system was activated “manually,” but attributed its activation to a “malfunction”:
A Starbucks spokesperson said [retaliation against striking workers] isn’t the [reason the system was activated] and that the system, which must be manually turned on and off, malfunctioned. The coffee giant is working to help affected customers.
A viral October 2022 TikTok clip from Starbucks Workers United (@sbunited) indicated that “Starbucks corporate” activated the store’s mobile order pay system, knowing that the store was on strike — allowing customers to purchase items at a closed location. An October 11 2022 article from a Buffalo-area news outlet obtained comment from Starbucks, confirming the system was turned on at the striking location. Starbucks said the system had to be turned on manually, but claimed the incident was a “malfunction.”