Starbucks to Close Ithaca Locations, Employees Allege It’s Due to Union Activism

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Photo: Orlando Dispatch

Starbucks employees at an Ithaca, New York branch say their store is being closed due to their union activism. 

According to the worker committee, it is filing an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that Starbucks is performing a “clear attempt to scare workers across the country,” said a press release from the Starbucks Workers United. 

The beverage giant announced to its workers in its College Avenue store close to Cornell University on Friday that the location will shut down in a week, as per the press release. 

Notably, all three Starbucks stores in Ithaca voted in favor of unionizing in April, marking the first fully unionized city of the company in the United States, said the press release. 

Employees at the College Avenue location made a strike on April 16, alleging “unsafe working conditions” because of a “waste emergency” due to an overspill in a grease trap, according to the union. 

A soon-to-close store barista Nadia Vitek said the grease trap had been an issue for some time now, making an “awful” smell that the customers could also notice. They stated that there was oil on the shop’s floor. 

“Now they’re closing the store, and the only concrete reason that they’re giving us is the grease trap,” Vitek stated. “And it feels blatant when you connect the dots.” 

The location’s district manager organized a meeting with the workers on Microsoft Teams on Friday to inform them of the store’s closure, according to Vitek. 

“I was shaking as I was hearing them say the news,” Vitek stated. “They didn’t even explain in the call that it was a permanent closure. I got that in an email from the anti-union lawyer that Starbucks has.” 

A Starbucks spokesperson stated that the giant opens and closes locations under its regular operations strategy. However, they did not provide any reasons behind the Ithaca closure. 

“Our local, regional, and national leaders have been working with humility, deep care, and urgency to create the kind of store environment that partners and customers expect of Starbucks,” stated the company spokesperson. 

“Our goal is to ensure that every partner is supported in their individual situation, and we have immediate opportunities available in the market.” 

However, Starbucks staff at the branch are worried about possessing sufficient hours, with the other locations in the area already scrambling, Vitek stated. 

“Starbucks is continuing a divide-and-conquer strategy. But, you know, even though we’re grieving, we’re all ready to fight,” Vitek continued. 

Workers United, an alliance of the Service Employees International Union, which is backing the Starbucks workers, has also made a series of complaints opposed to the beverage giant. 

“It’s a violation of federal labor law to close a store because workers exercised their legal rights,” an attorney of Starbucks Workers United, Ian Hayes, said in a statement. “We… have no doubt the NLRB will prosecute the company for this illegal union-busting, and justice will be done.”