BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Starbucks, the largest coffee house in the nation, has closed two Buffalo-area stores whose staff were trying to unionize. Had they succeeded, they would have been the first in the nation.
Starbucks said that the two closures have nothing to do with the union efforts. One is scheduled to reopen next week after renovations, and the other will be used indefinitely for training, the company said. No workers lost their jobs in the closures.
But Starbucks workers believe the closures are part of an anti-union campaign they feel Starbucks has waged since it found out a few months ago that employees—or “partners,” as Starbucks refers to them—have been working with Workers United to unionize.
The workers said the closures, Starbucks’ partnership with Little Mendelson—the largest anti-union law firm in the U.S.—and the overwhelming influx of executives and managers to the area prove that higher-ups are union-busting. “It is sending a very clear message that they have no desire to let us organize,” said Michelle Eisen, a barista and union supporter who works at the Elmwood store.
Three Starbucks in the area are trying to unionize. Two others postponed their union drives to focus efforts on the other locations. One of the temporarily closed locations is still pushing to unionize. In multiple stores, a union source said there’s a high percentage of workers who support unionizing.
Reggie Borges, a spokesman for Starbucks, said renovations for the Elmwood store were scheduled six months ago and that the store will reopen shortly. Workers did not dispute this, but questioned why Starbucks is making all of these changes and renovations now, during a union campaign, when workers have been complaining about store conditions for years.
Eisen said the renovations have been postponed several times and it “seems a little suspicious” that Starbucks closed the store to finish renovations when this specific store “had almost 100% union support.”
Borges said the other closure was prompted after “partners expressed concern at the condition of the store.” With that facility transitioning to a training ground, Borges said, “Partners at the store are not losing hours and are being provided times at other stores, which is not uncommon.”
“Training stores are one of the more common tools we use when supporting partners in a market. We’ve previously stood up stores in markets as a way to more effectively train new partners and refresh partners who may need additional support,” Borges said.
The Starbucks spokesperson said partners take shifts at different stores, not just their home base stores, so Starbucks does not see the training store being a disruption. Borges also said that employees reported inadequate training. “Tthat was the reason we stood up the training store,” he said.
But Eisen said Starbucks workers who support unionizing see the closure as a tactic to interfere with their unionizing effort. “In my 11 years in the company in this area, I have never seen a store shut down under the premise of being used for training of new partners,” Eisen said. “It doesn’t make any sense. You would not train a partner in a store that is not going to be their home store; stores are set up differently. I think it is a way to vet the new partners to see where they fall with union support. It is also a way to put anti-union rhetoric in their heads before they get to a store that has union supporters working in it.”
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