Starbucks informs workers at two stores of closures, union claims retaliation

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A sign is seen as Activists participate in an event dubbed the Un-Birthday Party and picket line for Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on July 19, 2022 in New York City. Activists gathered near Schultz’s West Village home on his 75th birthday to protest the treatment of Starbucks workers attempting to unionize, as well as Schultz’s recent announcement to permanently close 16 locations.
Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images

Starbucks has informed workers at two locations that their stores will be closing, a move that the coffee chain’s union says is retaliation for organizing efforts.

The company said the union activity isn’t the reason for the closures. It said a Kansas City, Missouri, location, where vote results are pending, is closing due to safety issues. It said a Seattle location, where workers voted to organize in April, will close and reopen, operated as a licensed location by a neighboring grocery store. Starbucks will engage in bargaining with the union to seek an agreement that gives workers there the opportunity to transfer to other stores.

“We continue to evaluate the partner and customer experience at all of our stores as a regular course of business,” Starbucks said in a statement Tuesday about the Seattle location, adding that its decision would help build on the location’s relationship with customers of the grocery store.

About 200 of Starbucks’ roughly 9,000 locations in the U.S. have voted to unionize.

Under interim CEO Howard Schultz, Starbucks has been focusing on the company’s reinvention and emphasizing priorities including store safety and advancement opportunities for workers. As part of the push, Starbucks closed more than a dozen stores over safety concerns, most of them on the West Coast. A letter sent to employees last month cited personal safety and mental health issues and drug use at some of the locations.

But the union maintains some closures are about more than safety, pointing to a list of 19 Starbucks locations that have closed or are closing, with eight of them having unionized, filed or started to organize.

“If Starbucks was serious about solving safety issues, they could work with partners and our union. Instead, Schultz and Starbucks have sent a message loud and clear — complain about safety, and we’ll close your store,” Starbucks Workers United said in a statement.

The latest moves by Starbucks come after the company asked the National Labor Relations Board to suspend all mail-in ballot union elections at its stores nationwide, alleging inappropriate actions during the voting process in the Kansas City area, and likely elsewhere. The company cited a whistleblower who approached it regarding the voting process and asked the labor board to halt elections until an investigation is complete.

Last month Chipotle permanently closed a store in Augusta, Maine, saying it could not fix staffing issues there. Workers seeking to organize that store filed a complaint with NLRB, claiming the move was retaliatory.

In an email to an attorney for Starbucks Workers United regarding the Seattle location, counsel for Starbucks said its goal is to get employees working in others stores as soon as possible so there is “no gap in their work lives.” The email, seen by CNBC, also says the company reserves the right to “seek a withdrawal of [union] certification” if misconduct is found in the store’s election.

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