This ‘Red Dead Redemption’ Side Quest Helps Clarify What’s Happening at … Starbucks?

No, really.

“Starbucks” and “Red Dead Redemption” are two names that aren’t conventionally associated—on the outside, the uber-trendy coffee chain and the gritty third-person action-adventure game aren’t exactly two peas in a pod. But, thanks to the recent turmoil over unionization at Starbucks, and a Red Dead side quest based in historical truth, the two now share an unlikely (but ironic) connection—the Pinkertons.

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Wait, what? If you’re a fan of the Red Dead Redemption games, the name ‘Pinkerton’ may ring a bell—they’re a gang of in-game antagonists who are often hot on the heels of Dutch’s gang. In Red Dead, the Pinkertons are hired after one of Leviticus Cornwall’s trains was robbed. What some fans may not know, though, is that the Pinkertons are based on a real life detective agency who, like the bounty hunters for hire in the game, took money from the government to investigate plots and serve as security.

Okay, the Pinkertons in Red Dead were based on a real-life detective agency in the old west. What does that have to do with Starbucks? It may surprise some people to find out that the Pinkerton agency is still very much alive and kicking. Their agency has persevered through the years, and they even sent a cease-and-desist note to Rockstar games (and later a full-on lawsuit) over their portrayal in the Red Dead games. Though luckily their lawsuits didn’t hold water (Rockstar even shot back with their own lawsuit after the initial scuffle), the Pinkerton Agency is no stranger to stirring up trouble both in and out of the game, and lo and behold, the latest corporation to keep Pinkerton on their payroll is, of course, Starbucks.

Just as old-timey billionaires hired the Pinkerton agency in-game to go after Dutch’s gang, Starbucks has hired the present-day Pinkerton Agency to—you guessed it—aid in union-busting. Starbucks stores looking to unionize is hardly a new issue, but in the past few years the conversation surrounding partners being allowed to join a union has ramped up significantly, so much so that Starbucks apparently felt the need to hire former Pinkerton employee/CIA agent Amanda Stanfill to assist in their ongoing conflicts with unionization.

This past year especially, Starbucks has come under frequent fire and faced continuing criticism for their union-busting policies and underhanded tactics when dealing with partners hoping to unionize—and to many, the hiring of a former Pinkerton agency employee (quite literally a mustache-twirling old west villain) is just the latest in a string of corporate antics aimed at undermining employees.

Though the legal battle between Starbucks corporate and Starbucks partners over unionization is a complicated, multi-faceted issue with plenty of elements worth exploring, the Pinkertons portrayal in Red Dead Redemption can help give viewers a better idea of why a Pinkerton employee being hired by Starbucks in the midst of union-busting has ruffled some feathers.

(image via Rockstar Games)

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Lauren Coates
Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. Besides writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, RogerEbert, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjcoates