Workers Fight Back as Starbucks Moves to Close Unionized Shop

Starbucks workers are accusing company management of illegally retaliating against labor organizing by moving to shut down an Ithaca, New York shop that voted to unionize in April.

Workers United, an SEIU affiliate representing Starbucks workers, filed a complaint Friday urging the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to pursue a court injunction to prevent the store closure, which is not the first time Starbucks has halted operations at a shop engaged in union activity.

“It is a clear attempt to scare workers across the country by retaliating against its own employees,” the Workers United bargaining committee argued in the filing, submitted days ahead of the shop’s set closure date of June 10.

Gary Bonadonna Jr., executive vice president of Workers United, called the planned store closure a “blatant act of war” against Starbucks workers.

“We have their backs,” he added.

Starbucks’ move came after workers at the College Ave. shop went on strike in mid-April, alleging unsafe working conditions stemming from an “overflowing grease trap.”

In an email to Workers United obtained and published Sunday by the progressive outlet More Perfect Union, Alan Model — an attorney with Littler Mendelson, the notorious law firm that Starbucks has brought on to assist its union-busting campaign — cited the grease trap as one of the reasons for the impending store closure.

“Trying to operate in that store is certainly not providing the level of partner experience you deserve or the level of costumer experience our customers expect,” Model wrote. “We’d like to engage in bargaining with Workers United as soon as possible to discuss the impact of the store’s closing on its partners.”

Workers, however, were quick to dismiss that rationale as a mere pretext for shuttering a unionized shop, one of a many aggressive tactics that Starbucks has turned to in an effort to blunt union momentum. The NLRB has filed a number of complaints against Starbucks, including one last month that accuses the company of violating federal labor law more than 200 times.

In the face of mounting hostility from the coffee company’s management, more than 100 Starbucks locations across the U.S. have voted to unionize since historic victories in Buffalo in December spurred a nationwide organizing drive.

“This is clearly retaliation for our small grasps at dignity as workers, but our strike showed them what power we have,” Benjamin South, an employee at the Ithaca shop, said in a statement. “Taking a corporation to task is unprecedented, but our 100+ union stores are proof positive that there is an army of partners that won’t let Starbucks bully us.”