Starbucks, REI employees say they will stage ‘sick out’ protesting mask changes

SEATTLE — Starbucks employees say they are staging a “sick out” over the coffee giant’s loosening of its mask policy, and they are not alone.

Customers are being asked to get their cup of joe someplace other than Starbucks Saturday.

Employees posted on social media that they plan to hold a “sick out.”

They’re protesting the company’s decision to drop its mask mandate for vaccinated customers.

This idea is spreading.

Employees at REI are also calling for a “sick out” Saturday.

They and Starbucks employees say changing the mask requirement endangers them.

Walter Kozbiel wears his mask as he sells the Real Change newspaper; but he doesn’t think there should be a mandate inside this Starbucks.

“I just think it should be a choice,” said Kozbiel, a fixture on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill. “I mean the business can choose that of course, too, because it is their business. But I think it also should be a choice for the people who go in there, whether they want to wear a mask or not.”

That is decidedly a minority opinion here.

“I completely support the employees,” said Penny Scordas of Seattle. “They should be worried. I don’t think we should relax completely and take off our masks because there are still plenty of people who have not been vaccinated.”

Christy Kurtzweg was asked if she could boycott Starbucks Saturday. “I’ll try hard,” she said, with a wry smile. “But I think i can.”

Employees at REI are asking customers to boycott their stores, too, just as the company’s anniversary sale begins.

Their action is outlined in a social media post calling for a “co-op wide sick out.” The company’s decision relaxing its mask policy, wrote one worker, is “just one more kick in the gut.”

Another person questioned the protest, since the company is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline that the vaccinated are safe going maskless indoors.

“For over a year all I’ve heard is ‘listen to the CDC!’ But now suddenly everyone is like ‘the CDC is wrong.’ Doesn’t make sense.”

But most people say they aren’t looking to change just yet. Leslie and Neil Gilham of Edmonds, REI customers, say they feel fine still wearing a mask.

“Oh, yeah,” said Leslie.

“Yeah,” agreed Neil. “I think it makes other people feel comfortable. And I think that’s important.”

The Starbucks at the top of Queen Anne Hill does require masks, but others do not.

Time will tell just how many employees actually opt-out of work Saturday.

As of Friday night, there were no comments from either company.