Starbucks Corp has been hit with its first strike at a company-operated cafe in Chile, where some workers are seeking pay and benefit increases, union and company representatives told Reuters on Friday.

Starbucks was quick to say that its 31 cafes in Chile would remain open despite the absence of union workers, who account for less than one-third of its employees there.

Starbucks is seen as having some of the restaurant industry's best pay and benefits, which has helped it fend off union organization efforts in the United States, where the coffee chain has the vast majority of its sales.

Starbucks operates roughly 17,000 cafes in more than 50 countries around the world. The vast majority of its cafes are not unionized.

Chile has seen a growing wave of protests in recent weeks, led by students, environmentalists and miners.

The company is covering the shifts of union workers in Chile with nonunion employees, said Starbucks spokesman Jim Olson.

Our stores in Chile have remained open and they'll continue to be open throughout the strike, Olson said.

Meanwhile, the union claimed a win.

It's an incredible victory for the union, and obviously very symbolic for the company internationally, said Andres Giordano, president of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Starbucks Coffee Chile union, who has been participating in protests at Starbucks cafes around Santiago this week.

About 200 of Starbucks' 670 employees in Chile belong to the union, which called on its members to be absent from work on July 7.

The union needed 50 percent, plus one, of its members scheduled for shifts on July 7 to participate in order for a strike to be certified.

Chile's Labor Bureau found that 62 workers were absent that day, while 57 showed up, Starbucks and the union said.

The Labor Bureau, which found the strike effective as of July 7, was not immediately available for comment.

Starbucks keeps very accurate attendance records and disagrees with the Labor Bureau's ruling, which it plans to appeal, Olson said.

The numbers we provided to the Labor Bureau were different and showed that the number of partners that actually came to work as scheduled outnumbered those that participated in the strike, said Olson, who added that Starbucks was complying with the Labor Bureau's decision.

Starbucks workers have been protesting in front of Starbucks' Santiago cafes since July 7. On Monday afternoon, they brandished posters with slogans that included: Your coffee would taste better if Starbucks respected its workers.

Among other things, the union workers are seeking pay that keeps up with inflation, a $100 monthly lunch stipend, enhanced health insurance benefits and a variety of bonuses. [ID:nN1E765230]

Starbucks says its pay and other compensation in Chile exceeds what is offered by its peers. Starbucks shares closed up 1.7 percent at $39.80 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Alexandra Ulmer in Santiago; editing by John Wallace and Matthew Lewis)