LAKEWOOD, Calif. (KABC) -- Starbucks workers at two Southern California stores started a 24-hour strike on Monday over what they say are unfair labor practices.
A group of workers formed a picket line in front of the Lakewood store off Candlewood Street Monday morning, chanting the phrase "no contract, no coffee." More than 30 employees voted unanimously to strike.
Employees at the Barstow location were also expected to strike, with union organizers claiming the company has interfered with their right to say the word "union."
The employees allege Starbucks has interfered with their right to organize without retaliation, and they say the company has denied benefits to them because they're in a union.
Tyler Keeling, a barista and Starbucks Workers United organizer, said the company announced benefit improvements such as pay raises, sick time accrual, and mental health days, but only implemented them at stores that had not yet unionized.
"We knew we were going to get them eventually, but we also knew Starbucks was going to go as far as they could with it and try to hold it over our head," Keeling said. "They're trying to punish stores for unionizing... they're trying to pretend we don't exist."
Back in May, Long Beach became one of the first stores in Southern California to unionize. Nationwide, more than 220 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since late last year.
In a statement to ABC7, Starbucks acknowledged the strikes and said, "Starbucks has great partners and we value their contributions. We respect our partners' right to engage in any legally protected activity or protest without retaliation. We are grateful for each partner who continues to work and we always do our best to listen to the concerns of all our partners."
On Monday, Starbucks asked the National Labor Relations Board to temporarily suspend all union elections at its U.S. stores in response to allegations of improper coordination between regional NLRB officials and the union.
In a letter sent Monday to the NLRB, Starbucks said an unnamed government official told the company about numerous issues in the NLRB's St. Louis office while it was overseeing an election at a Starbucks store in Overland Park, Kansas, earlier this spring.
The Seattle coffee giant said the regional office made special arrangements for pro-union workers to vote in person at its office, even though the store election was supposed to be handled by mail-in ballot. Starbucks said regional officials also disclosed confidential information to the union, including which ballots had arrived in the mail to be counted.
Kayla Blado with the NLRB said the following in a statement to Eyewitness News:
"The NLRB does not comment on open cases. The agency has well-established processes to raise challenges regarding the handling of both election matters and unfair labor practice cases. Those challenges should be raised in filings specific to the particular matters in question. The regional staff - and, ultimately, the Board - will carefully and objectively consider any challenges raised through these established channels, which include opportunities to seek expedited review in both representation and unfair labor practice cases."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.