Starbucks Workers Allege Retaliation as Store Abruptly Closes Amidst Unsafe Conditions and Union Activity

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Workers at a Starbucks store in Ithaca, New York, went on strike last April due to unsafe working conditions caused by repeated grease trap spills and management inaction. The strike attracted negative press and attention from management.

Management Considers Closure Amidst Negative Press

Internal emails from the public-relations firm Edelman reveal Starbucks’ concern about negative press following the strike. A regional director recommended closing the store due to its failure to meet the company’s needs, while exploring the possibility of a renovation.

Closure Raises Retaliation Accusations

Starbucks closed the store permanently two months later, leading workers and federal labor enforcers to accuse the company of retaliation. The closure coincided with the workers’ recent vote in favor of joining the Workers United union.

Email Disclosure

Emails disclosed during a trial at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) provide insight into Starbucks’ considerations leading up to the closure. The emails highlight maintenance issues at the store, particularly the overflowing grease trap, which attracted media attention.

The emails revealed that Starbucks’ senior vice president of U.S. operations expressed concern about the store’s condition and the negative media coverage it was receiving. However, Starbucks denied that media attention played any role in the decision to close the store.

The NLRB’s general counsel found merit in the union’s claims of retaliation and filed a complaint against Starbucks. The union argues that the negative publicity from the strike expedited the closure process. Despite Starbucks’ assertion that closure was based on legitimate business reasons, including ongoing maintenance issues, the emails suggest that the company was still undecided about the store’s fate. The store’s prime location and strong sales potential complicated the decision-making process.

Starbucks officials engaged in discussions regarding the possibility of renovating and reopening the store. However, the closure date was moved up, and the company ultimately closed the store permanently.

The union’s lawyer argued that Starbucks misled the workers, claiming the company initially planned to survey options for the store’s future rather than permanently closing it. The union believes that Starbucks accelerated the closure due to negative publicity and the ongoing union drive. They maintains that the closure was permanent due to the extensive issues with the store. The company cites the significant time and cost required for restoration as factors supporting the decision.

The closure of the Ithaca store had a profound impact on the workforce and the organizing campaign. Workers engaged in effects bargaining with the company, seeking fair treatment during the closure. Starbucks offered positions at other stores, but the workers pushed for a severance package for those unable to accept new positions, which the company opposed.

In the aftermath of the closure, most workers either accepted positions at other stores or left the company. The closure of the College Avenue store disrupted the union campaign in town, causing setbacks and reducing the number of workers involved.

Despite Starbucks’ denial of retaliation, an administrative law judge ruled that the company illegally closed a mall kiosk that had unionized. The NLRB’s general counsel has yet to announce a decision regarding the union’s allegations related to other closures.

Overall, the closure of the Starbucks store in Ithaca, New York, following a worker strike has sparked allegations of retaliation, raising concerns about workers’ rights and the company’s response to union activity.

Source: ©Indranil Aditya/NurPhoto via Getty Images ; Huffpost
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