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Starbucks New York union

Protesters rally against Starbucks union-busting outside one of the global coffee chain's locations in Great Neck, New York on August 15, 2022. (Photo: Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

First NYC 'Just Cause' Lawsuit Targets Starbucks for Union-Busting

"Just in time for Labor Day, Starbucks secures another spot in the union-busting hall of fame," said one workers' group.

Brett Wilkins

Citing violations of its Fair Workweek Law, New York City sued Starbucks on Friday, accusing the company of illegally firing a barista for his union organizing activities.

"As we approach Labor Day, it's important to remember that workers are the backbone of our city and deserve the right to organize."

New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga said the agency filed a case at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH). The suit alleges that Starbucks violated "just cause" protections of the city's 2017 Fair Workweek Law when the Seattle-based company unlawfully terminated Austin Locke, a Workers United organizer, on July 5—less than a month after crew members at the Astoria Starbucks where he worked voted to join a union.

"As we approach Labor Day, it's important to remember that workers are the backbone of our city and deserve the right to organize to promote safer and fairer work practices," Mayuga said in a statement.

The city's suit is seeking Locke's reinstatement, with restitution and back pay.

"Any violation of the city's Fair Workweek Law is unacceptable," Mayuga added. "DCWP stands ready to fight for the dignity and respect that all workers deserve from their employers. To all New York City fast food workers, if you believe you have been illegally fired from your workplace, do not hesitate to contact us."

Locke, who is a complaintant in the case, said that "it's been a year since the campaign with Starbucks Workers United began at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York. There are now 235 unionized Starbucks around the country."

"Starbucks continues to wrongfully fire pro-union workers nationwide in retaliation for union organizing," he continued. "Starbucks Workers United demands Starbucks rehire all illegally fired workers and put an end to their illegal union-busting campaign."

"We also demand that Starbucks come to the bargaining table and negotiate a contract with Starbucks Workers United," Locke added. "No Contract, No Coffee!"

Starbucks claimed Locke was terminated after he failed to complete a Covid-19 questionnaire and falsely reported a supervisor for making physical contact with him, according to the DCWP lawsuit. The company responded to the suit by telling media outlets it does "not comment on pending litigation" and that it plans to "defend against this alleged violation of the city's just cause law."

According to DCWP:

Since the Fair Workweek Law went into effect in November 2017, DCWP has received more than 440 complaints about Fair Workweek, closed more than 220 investigations, and obtained resolutions requiring nearly $24.4 million in combined fines and restitution for more than 17,150 workers.

Last month, the National Labor Relations Board accused Starbucks of illegally withholding raises and benefits from thousands of workers at locations that have or are in the process of unionizing in an effort to crush the nationwide organizing wave that began in Buffalo.

Also last month, a federal judge ordered Starbucks to offer to rehire the so-called "Memphis Seven," workers at one of the chain's locations in Tennessee's second-largest city who were terminated for leading a unionization drive.

Common Dreams reported Wednesday that Starbucks' union-busting CEO, Howard Schultz, got nearly a billion dollars richer during the Covid-19 pandemic, even as many of his baristas—who earn an average of around $17 an hour—struggle to survive.

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