November 29, 2022
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New York City sues Starbucks over firing of unionizing barista

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New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection has planned to sue Starbucks for violating the city’s “just cause” protections for wrongful termination of a union organizer, the city announced Friday.

According to DCWP’s investigation, the Starbucks location illegally fired Austin Locke, a longtime barista and union organizer, in early July — less than a month after employees from the Astoria Starbucks voted for a union.

“Starbucks continues to wrongfully fire pro-union workers nationwide in retaliation for union organizing,” Locke wrote in a statement, adding there are 235 unionized Starbucks throughout the country. “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.”

DCWP is arguing Locke’s reinstatement, civil penalties, restitution and back pay are required under law, according to a statement.

“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,” DCWP commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga wrote in a statement. “Any violation of the City’s Fair Workweek Law is unacceptable. DCWP stands ready to fight for the dignity and respect that all workers deserve from their employers.”

DCWP is seeking the corporation to comply with the city’s Fair Workweek Law moving forward.

Under this law, it’s illegal for fast food employers to fire or lay off workers who completed a probation period of 30 days or lessen their hours by over 15% without a just cause or economic reason.

Since the law went into effect in November 2017, DCWP received over 440 complaints about Fair Workweek, closed over 220 investigations and received resolutions that required nearly $24.4 million in fines and restitutions from over 17,150 workers, the DCWP statement said.

“New York City has been and will remain union strong, and terminating an employee for fighting for workers’ rights is unconscionable,” said City Council Member Marjorie Velázquez, the chair of the Council’s consumer and worker protection committee. “There is no place for leaders and businesses who go against providing humane, healthy work environments in our City, including Starbucks.”

Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York, were the first in the country to become unionized back in December 2021.

“We do not comment on pending litigation but we do intend to defend against the alleged violations of the city’s just cause law,” a Starbucks spokesperson said.​

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