ITHACA, N.Y. (WETM) — After just over one year since becoming fully unionized in the City of Ithaca, after Friday, May 26, all corporate-run Starbucks locations in the city with be closed by the company.
The announcement came on May 5, shocking employees and giving them three weeks to find alternative options.
Announcements of the closures reached workers by being told by managers in person if they were working, or unknown phone calls with no callback number and voicemails for those that were off at the time.
On Wednesday, both coffee shops were closed, as they have been all week, with some of the baristas coming together and striking along the road on S. Meadow Street, protesting what they believe, is a retaliation act against the union by Starbucks.
“Three stores is kind of a drop in the bucket like it’s not going to hurt their (Starbucks’) bottom line in a huge way,” said Stephanie Heslop, a barista for Starbucks at the Ithaca Commons location. “Their strategy all along has been to punish union supporters and stores that unionize and reward stores that aren’t union,” she said. She said partners in non-union stores received better pay, a more relaxed dress code, along with other benefits.
Starbucks has commented on the closures of the Ithaca locations, saying in a statement on May 14 that they’ve been experiencing an overwhelming number of absences and partner turnover in the last eight months.
“Over the last eight months in these stores, we’ve had more than 900 partner absences and have also seen a significant amount of partner turnover, more than triple our national store average,” Starbucks said. “Further, we have been unable to retain partners in critical management positions, and these leadership vacancies have caused even more disruptions for partners and customers,” the company said in its statement.
Workers out striking see that as a misleading statement, however, telling 18 News that the stores were cutting worker hours, and not accommodating people’s schedules, despite their availability.
“They gave us two major reasons (why the stores were closing), said Talia Silva-Vallejo, a barista for the Ithaca Commons location. “One is that they weren’t making enough profit…and the second reason is that they didn’t have enough people to work and cover the open hours,” Silva-Vallejo said. “Since I started working in December, my hours have been reducing every month,” she said, “I started willing to work 25 to 30 hours (a week) I ended up having only 11.
Silva-Vallejo is just one of a number of people who have seen reduced hours over the final months of operation in Ithaca.
Heslop for example, explained that she had around 100 hours of availability, but had to bring it down to 70, as she experienced fewer hours over her time there.
On top of the fewer hours, the workers told of their interactions with managers and being disciplined for minor things, with both Silva-Vallejo and Heslop saying they were written up for being one minute late to work.
“They were enforcing rules totally differently depending whether people were publicly supporting the union or not,” Heslop said, “I got my first write-up for clocking in one minute late, and not smiling enough,” she said.
Starbucks coffee is still going to be found in Ithaca even after the two stores are shut down, locations at Cornell University and the shop inside the Barnes & Noble in Ithaca will still be selling products.
When asked about the continued sale of products on Cornell’s Campus, Starbucks told 18 News they had no plans to stop the sale, as locations like the store on campus are managed through third-party licensee relationships.
Students at Cornell have been protesting the sale of the coffee this week, with protestors seen on the union’s TikTok account camping outside of the administration building.
When asked about the students protesting, one of the striking baristas thought the support from them is amazing.
“I think it’s amazing that the Cornell students are supporting us through it, and they’re realizing that Starbucks is kind of a crap company,” said Kaylee Johnson, a barista in Ithaca. “I think it’s more about wanting a local store in their location that’s going to support workers more than a corporation does,” she said.
As for what’s next for the workers, Heslop said that she didn’t receive much communication from Starbucks other than for her to contact her union representative about severance, and said that final bargaining has been taking place between the union and Starbucks. During that bargaining process, Heslop said they’ll be negotiating things like people’s ability to transfer to other stores, and severance for people who don’t transfer.
Heslop said that the group will continue to strike until Friday, and after that, those that don’t transfer will have to look for other means of work.
Starbucks workers are seen on Strike pending the closure of the remaining two Starbucks locations in Ithaca.