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Starbucks union says the coffee giant is closing a store to retaliate

Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for Starbucks' employees union election, Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Joshua Bessex
Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for Starbucks' employees union election, Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Updated June 5, 2022 at 9:24 AM ET

Starbucks is closing a store in Ithaca, N.Y., in what Starbucks union organizers are calling an illegal move of retaliation after workers at the location voted to unionize.

The coffee giant gave the employees at the College Ave. location near Cornell University a one-week notice of the closure, the union says, with the store slated to permanently close on June 10.

The coffee giant has said the decision to close the store was unrelated to the unionization effort. The store was one of three Starbucks locations in Ithaca that voted to unionize on April 8.

Workers at the College Ave. location previously went on a one-day strike in April for what the union says were unsafe working conditions — "a waste emergency caused by the overflowing grease trap." Starbucks later cited the grease trap as reason for shuttering the location, according to the union.

"This is clearly retaliation for our small grasps at dignity as workers, but our strike showed them what power we have," Benjamin South, an employee at the College Ave. location, said in a statement.

A union committee says it's filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Starbucks is closing the store to retaliate against worker activities that are protected by labor laws.

The union also alleges Starbucks acted in violation of its legal obligations to bargain over store closure, and that the company closed the store to discourage other workers from unionizing.

A Starbucks spokesperson told Bloomberg that the closure was based on facilities, staffing and time and attendance issues.

"We open and close stores as a regular part of our operations," a Starbucks spokesperson told NPR in a statement. "Our local, regional, and national leaders have been working with humility, deep care, and urgency to create the kind of store environment that partners and customers expect of Starbucks."

Starbucks stores across the country have seen a surge of union organizing in the past several months, with more than 230 Starbucks stores filing petitions for union elections and some 50 stores voting to join the national union Workers United between December and early May.

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Rina Torchinsky