Business

Starbucks workers strike for second consecutive day on Commonwealth Avenue

Employees say they have been subject to unfair labor practices and a chaotic, hostile work environment

Workers at a Starbucks on Commonwealth Avenue near Boston University went on strike Monday to protest changes in working conditions they said were implemented after they filed papers to unionize.  Suzanne Kreiter/Boston Globe

As Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz celebrated his birthday Tuesday, employees of a Brookline store donned party hats and waved balloons during their ongoing strike. Nearby, a “wanted” poster taped to a streetlamp called for Schultz to appear “alive at the bargaining table.” 

The strike, which began Monday at the Starbucks located at 874 Commonwealth Avenue, is the latest in a series of nationwide union activity tied to the global coffee chain. 

What’s happening at 874 Commonwealth Avenue

In a letter posted online Monday morning, Starbucks workers announced that the Commonwealth Avenue strike would continue until further notice. Employees also said they intended to halt deliveries to the store. 

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The letter claims that workers have been subject to unfair labor practices and a chaotic and hostile work environment. They directly blame Tomi Chorlian who, according to the letter, was temporarily assigned as store manager shortly after the store voted to unionize. 

The employees said that Chorlian made illegal threats of discipline or termination if workers did not comply with a new availability policy. Chorlian, the employees wrote, also “aggressively” cut hours for long-tenured employees and understaffed shifts all while hiring an “influx” of new workers. Finally, they accuse Chorlian of “perpetuating harmful and offensive rhetoric with respect to the race, gender, and orientation” of both workers and customers. The employees demanded that Chorlian either be terminated or undergo extra training. 

The Commonwealth Avenue Starbucks voted to unionize with 10 votes in favor and zero against in early June, according to a database maintained by More Perfect Union. The database lists 16 Starbucks locations in Massachusetts that have either voted, or are in the process of voting, on unionization. One location in Reading has yet to vote, while one location in Newtonville and another on Summer Street in Boston rejected unionization. A location in the South End is in flux due to a number of challenged ballots. The other twelve cafés voted in favor of unionization. 

Unionization efforts around the country

The nationwide surge of Starbucks unionization began in Buffalo late last year. Since then, workers have voiced their concerns about low pay, difficult working conditions, and few benefits. Across the country, 315 stores in 36 states have filed to unionize as of Tuesday. In total, 196 Starbucks stores have won union elections, according to More Perfect Union. 

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Other Starbucks employees in the Boston area have gone on strike this year. In late May, workers at the Cleveland Circle location picketed. They said that management kept employees at work despite serious water leaks that came through the ceiling and onto espresso machines, countertops, the floor, and the workers themselves.

Boston Starbucks workers have alleged that the company engages in anti-union practices like scheduling changes, increased disciplinary actions, and mandatory “listening sessions,” according to The Boston Globe

In April, the Boston City Council passed a resolution in support of Starbucks workers who favor unionization. It called on the company “to immediately renounce its anti-union tactics, agree to fair election principles, [and] negotiate in good faith,” the Globe reported. 

What local politicians and Starbucks representatives are saying

On Monday, City Council President Ed Flynn and Councilor Kenzie Bok dropped by the Commonwealth Avenue location to show their support for the striking workers. 

Shannon Liss-Riordan, who is running for Massachusetts Attorney General, also came by the café. She spoke to those in attendance, telling workers that she was proud of their efforts.

“You are setting an example for Starbucks workers across Massachusetts and across the country, and so many other workers who are thinking about organizing. You’ve taken this important step to form a union and now you’ve got to use that power,” she said.

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A Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement to the Globe that the company was aware of this week’s strike. 

“Starbucks values each of our partners and we respect their legal rights to engage in organizing activity or protest,” the statement read. “We are grateful for each partner who did come into work today, and we are doing our best to listen to the concerns of all our partners.”

This month, Schultz announced that a number of Starbucks stores will close around the country due to safety-related problems like crime, homelessness and drug use in bathrooms. Pro-union workers and their allies have said the company is using these closures as a way to derail unionization efforts, Bloomberg reported.

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