Workers are calling for a local boycott of Starbucks in Ithaca, New York, after the company announced that it would be closing a recently unionized store in a major escalation of its anti-union campaign.
On Friday, Starbucks informed workers at the College Avenue store in Ithaca that it would be closing the store permanently on June 10, only a week from the notification date. In early April, the store became the third unionized location in Ithaca after workers voted 19 to 1 to unionize; as a result, Ithaca became the first city where all Starbucks locations are fully unionized.
Workers plan to rally on Wednesday to combat what Starbucks Workers United says is “clear retaliation for the first city in the US to unionize every Starbucks store in the city.”
The store closing comes after workers went on strike in mid-April to protest a safety issue over a grease trap that had overflowed. Workers said they arrived at work in the morning to a grease trap filled with maggot- and oil-laden wastewater, but were told by management that the store wouldn’t be closing due to the issue. The workers unanimously agreed to go on strike that day.
In Starbucks’s announcement of the closure to the workers, the company claimed that it was closing the store because of the grease trap. Workers were told that the company would “bargain in good faith” when it comes to whether or not they would be able to keep their jobs, they said.
According to More Perfect Union, the closure announcement didn’t first come from the company but instead came from notorious union-busting firm Littler Mendelson. Littler’s Alan I. Model, who handles negotiations with the union on behalf of the company, sent an email to a worker in the union saying that the store would be shutting down.
“We went on strike over our broken grease trap (which has been an issue for years) and now they’re claiming that our store needs to close permanently because of it,” Nadia Vitek, an Ithaca Starbucks worker, said in a statement on Saturday. “Seems like blatant and illegal retaliation for one of the most profitable and militant union stores in Ithaca. 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.”
Workers have filed a complaint against the company over the closure, seeking an injunction to keep the store open. “It is a clear attempt to scare workers across the country by retaliating against its own employees,” Starbucks Workers United wrote in the filing.
The company is increasingly desperate to stop workers’ union efforts as its stock plummets and Starbucks Workers United scores new unions at an astonishing pace. Just on Tuesday, the union won elections in 12 stores, bringing the total number of unionized locations to 135.
Although the company has been escalating its anti-union campaign, these efforts appear to be backfiring; workers voted on Tuesday to unionize a store in Memphis, Tennessee, where the company fired seven union organizers earlier this year. Not only did that move fail to stop a union from forming at the store, but the company is also facing a legal challenge from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has filed for an injunction to force the company to reinstate the workers.