Starbucks workers in an Ithaca store in New York allege that their site has been closed in response to their union activism.
The Labor Committee said it is filing an unfair labor practice accusation with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Starbucks is making a “clear attempt to intimidate workers across the country,” according to a news release from the Starbucks Workers Union.
On Friday, Starbucks notified employees at its College Avenue location near Cornell University that the store will close within one week, according to the press release.
In April, all three Starbucks locations in Ithaca voted to create a union, making Ithaca the company’s first fully unionized city within the United States, according to the union press release.
On April 16, College Avenue store workers went on strike, claiming “unsafe working conditions” due to “emergency waste” from excess grease trap, the union said.
Nadia Vitek, a barista at the soon-to-be-closed location, claimed that the grease trap was an ongoing problem creating an “unpleasant” smell that even customers could notice. They said the oil was covering the entire floor of the shop.
“Now they are closing the store and the only concrete reason they give us is the grease trap,” Vitek said. “And it feels glaring when you connect the dots.”
On Friday, Vitek said the store’s area manager had a meeting with Microsoft Teams to announce the store’s closure.
“I was shivering when I heard them say the news,” Vitek said. “They didn’t even make it clear on the call that it was a permanent closure. I got this in an email from the anti-union attorney who owns Starbucks.”
A company spokesperson said Starbucks is opening and closing stores as part of its normal operations. They did not comment on specific reasons for the closure of Ithaca, nor did they respond to any questions outside the statement.
“Our local, regional and national leaders have worked with humility, deep care, and urgency to create the kind of store environment that partners and customers expect from Starbucks,” a Starbucks spokesperson said. “Our goal is to ensure that each partner is supported in their individual situation and that we have immediate market opportunities available.”
But Vitek said some Starbucks workers at the site are worried about spending enough hours, because other stores in the area are already struggling.
“Starbucks continues its divide and conquer strategy. But, you know, even though we mourn, we are all willing to fight back,” Vitek said.
United Workers Corporation, an affiliate of the International Service Employees Federation that supports Starbucks employees, has also filed dozens of complaints against the coffee giant.
“It is a violation of federal labor law to close a store because workers exercised their legal rights,” Ian Hayes, an attorney for Starbucks Workers United, wrote in a statement to CNN Business. “We have no doubt that NLRB will sue the company for this illegal union infringement, and justice will be served.”
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