The Starbucks Unionization Fight Is Getting Messy

Starbucks barista and union organizer Cassie Fleischer says she was recently told by her manager that she “no longer met the needs of the business” and would face termination if she didn’t add more hours to her schedule.

Fleischer thinks that Fleischer’s unionizing efforts are tied to the decision to push Fleischer out. Since 2005, she has worked at Starbucks. In Buffalo (New York), it is the first national unionized store. She serves on the organizing as well as the negotiating committees.

“Essentially, Starbucks is trying to force out union leaders either by termination or resignation by changing its policies without prior bargaining,” says Fleischer. “It is truly disheartening what they’re doing.” Starbucks denied that Fleischer’s situation is related to the union effort, via a representative.
[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

Late last year, Starbucks stores began to unionize, starting with Fleischer’s store and two others in Buffalo (two of the three voted yes to unionization), and calls to unionize swiftly spread across the country. Workers United, the union representing employees is petitioning for representation at approximately 100 shops. Starbucks is being accused of anti-union activities and rhetoric by its organizers, which includes intimidation and retaliatory firings.

Starbucks Workers United has no list of demands to make for the whole company. A Union spokesperson said that they asked Kevin Johnson to sign Fair Election Principles as Chief Executive Officer. “It will be up to the bargaining committee at each unionized store to decide what priorities they would like to bargain over specifically,” she says. “More broadly, we are fighting for a seat at the table and a democratic workplace.”

Learn More The Starbucks Unionization Effort is being spread by Gen Z Baristas

Fleischer worked in the shop where economic proposals were made. These included an hourly minimum tip of $5.50 and the payment of all premiums for health insurance. In January, workers at the store held a walkout to protest “unsafe working conditions” related to COVID-19.

Fleischer, 25 years old, noticed that her hourly rate had dropped from about 37 hours per week to just 30 by Christmas. This meant she was short of money so she started looking for another job to guarantee 40 hours per week. This month, she started as an administrative assistant. She kept her job at Starbucks, but changed her availability to reflect her new schedule and didn’t think much of it. Her manager then asked her to meet her, and she gave her an ultimatum. Basically add hours or go.

Fleischer offered to work a few more hours a week for a total of 15 but was told it still wasn’t enough, she says. That didn’t make sense to her as “Starbucks has always been a job that you can work part time.” Twelve hours had always been the minimum number of hours per week, but her manager now told her it was 20, she says. Starbucks spokesperson says there is no set minimum hour policy. “Each store has unique needs required to support the business,” according to the spokesperson.

Fleischer’s Facebook post about her personal situation went viral this month. Starbucks sees the attention being paid to Fleischer’s situation as “just confusion or misinformation,” according to a second company spokesperson. “Cassie Fleischer has not been fired. She’s just a retail partner working with her manager to work fewer hours, and they are trying to find a way that that would work for the store.”

Fleischer says that while she has not been officially terminated, she is not on the schedule for the next two weeks, which means she won’t be getting paid. Fleischer says she will be unable to work more hours than she does now, and that termination is the only option.

Ian Hayes who is representing the Union, said that the Union had filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the company for its implementation of the rule regarding the availability at Buffalo store locations. “We are including an allegation about Cassie’s termination in that case. More broadly, the charge alleges that the company is implementing this rule in order to dissuade other Starbucks workers from organizing, in violation of workers’ most basic rights under federal labor law.” And, on Tuesday, Fleischer had a call with the National Labor Relations Board to discuss her situation.

According to Starbucks Workers United spokesperson, the company has put in place rules that will discourage workers from organizing. “Their union busting tactics will not work,” she says. “This shows why we need a union now more than ever. We will win Cassie’s job back through the court of public opinion or through the court of law.” The spokesperson also says that the Elmwood store where Fleischer works has been “inundated” with customers demanding that she be reinstated. “Starbucks partners across the country are standing strong with her.”

For Kylah Clay, a barista and organizer in Boston, Mass., Fleischer’s experience shows just how important unions are. “Starbucks prides itself on respecting and supporting its partners,” says Clay, 24. “But I think the recent firings in Memphis and Buffalo shows the company’s true colors and highlights precisely why workers are fighting to unionize: to prevent unjust terminations and secure greater workplace protections.”

Fleischer already misses her job. “I love this job. It’s the first job that I’ve ever had that I didn’t hate,” she says. “The people that I work with are like minded. We get along. We function like a family. It hurts to think that this is how it might end.”


Related Articles

Back to top button