Starbucks is closing down a store in Ithaca, New York, that voted less than two months ago to unionize, and the union is accusing the company of doing so in retaliation for “militant” organizing activity.
Starbucks Workers United, the union with which Starbucks workers at more than 100 stores have unionized, said that on Friday, workers at the College Avenue store in Ithaca were given one week’s notice of the store’s closing on June 10. The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing the company of retaliation.
All three Starbucks stores in Ithaca voted to unionize on April 8, making Ithaca the first city in the United States where every Starbucks is unionized. Eight days after the vote, workers at the store went on a one-day strike after a grease trap overflowed and a manager refused to close, the store despite workers’ safety concerns.
“This is clearly retaliation for our small grasps at dignity as workers, but our strike showed them what power we have,” said Benjamin South, a shift supervisor who’s worked at the College Ave. store for more than three years, in a statement provided by the union.
South said in the statement that when workers at the College Ave. store asked if they would keep their jobs after their store closed, they were told the company would “bargain in good faith.”
In December, a Buffalo Starbucks became the first in the nation to vote for unionizing, and since then more than 100 Starbucks stores in over two dozen states have followed suit. The Ithaca store is the first unionized store to be shut down, but Starbucks employees have filed dozens of charges with the NLRB over the past several months alleging retaliation by the company, including firing union organizers. The NLRB has found merit to several of the complaints, and in multiple cases has sued for back pay and reinstatement for the workers.
Starbucks dismissed allegations that it was shutting down the store in response to the union campaign.
“We open and close stores as a regular part of our operations,” spokesperson Reggie Borges told Bloomberg Friday. (The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News Monday.)
“With deep care and urgency, we continuously work to create the kind of store environment that partners and customers expect of Starbucks. Our goal is to ensure that every partner is supported in their individual situation, and we have immediate opportunities available in the market.”
In an email to the Ithaca store’s organizing committee, a Starbucks lawyer cited the grease trap and “many issues with regard to the condition of the store” as reasons for the closure, according to Bloomberg.
“Seems like blatant and illegal retaliation for one of the most profitable and militant union stores in Ithaca,” Nadia Vitek, a barista at the College Ave. store, said in the statement. “Assuming we’ll be transferred to other stores in Ithaca, our hour cuts are going to be even worse – they’ll do anything for us to quit.“
Evan Sunshine, another worker at the soon-to-be-closed store, added: “We won’t let Starbucks get away with retaliating against us like this. Whatever it takes, however long it may take, we will persevere.”
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