ITHACA, N.Y.—Almost two months to the day after landing a historic unionization victory, workers at the Collegetown Starbucks location in Ithaca may be out of a job by the end of the week. The nationwide coffee chain has confirmed its intentions to close the College Avenue location in a move its employees strongly believe is retaliation for their organizing push.

Workers voted April 8 in favor of unionization, one of three Starbucks stores in Ithaca to unionize on the same day. In one fell swoop, Ithaca became the first city in which all Starbucks stores unionized, making national headlines amid a wave of unionization at Starbucks all over the country.

But workers now think that attention rankled Starbucks leaders and has led to the decision to close Collegetown, which has been the most vocally angry of the three local locations to unionize. The workers’ objections culminated most visibly in a wildcat strike on April 19 over an overflowed grease trap in the store that hadn’t been fixed and was generating bad smells throughout the cafe.

Workers at the Collegetown location have organized an event to be held on Wednesday, June 8, in which they are asking the public to place their order under the name “Union Strong” or “#UnionStrong” to show support for the workers, particularly if it’s at the Collegetown spot. There may also be a press conference held outside of the store that day where workers will share their stories.

They also said labor charges against Starbucks have been formally filed by all three locations in Ithaca with the National Labor Relations Board through the affiliated Workers United union. The charges include the following, also shown here:

  • Changes in Terms and Conditions of Employment
  • Discharge (Including Layoff and Refusal to Hire (not salting))
  • Coercive Statements (Threats, Promises of Benefits, etc.)
  • Coercive Actions (Surveillance, etc)
  • Refusal to Bargain/Bad Faith Bargaining (incl’g surface bargaining/direct dealing)
  • Interrogation (including Polling)
  • Discipline
  • Repudiation/Modification of Contract [Unilateral Changes]
  • Coercive Rules

Details and documents of these charges must be obtained via FOIL, which has been submitted by The Ithaca Voice and will be made available once they are received.

One anonymous Ithaca Starbucks worker, who is a union member but didn’t want their name used publicly for fear of losing their job, feels their hours have been cut or reduced as a result of their unionizing participation, and that they’ve been passed over for promotions in favor of outside hires because of similar reasons. Other union-busting allegations were covered in the press conference the workers held in April after their successful unionization votes, highlighted by workers feeling bullied, intimidated and that their jobs were at risk solely for having pro-union feelings or actions.

It’s difficult to understand how a popular coffee shop at the center of a thriving college campus wouldn’t be doing enough business to remain open, though business obviously is slower nearly everywhere in Ithaca when the students clear out for summer. It’s unclear how much that location pays in rent for the space, but the store does sit on what is likely one of the most expensive pieces of property in Ithaca (and, frankly, one of the more valuable property lots in America considering Collegetown prices). The property’s 2022 property assessment is listed as $3.6 million.

Starbucks confirmed the decision on Twitter in response to a worker’s question.

In response to a request for comment from The Ithaca Voice, Starbucks corporate communications sent the following reasoning for the closure.

“We open and close stores as a regular part of our operations. 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,” they wrote, avoiding specifically addressing any situation or financial pressure that would have led to the closing. “Our goal is to ensure that every partner is supported in their individual situation, and we have immediate opportunities available in the market.”

The end of the statement does seem to indicate that workers at the Collegetown location may have an opportunity to transfer to one of the other two Ithaca Starbucks locations, but workers aren’t sure they believe it yet. That’s been a major point of contention for potentially soon-to-be-unemployed Collegetown Starbucks workers, who have said they fear that they won’t be given an opportunity to transfer because of their unionizing, and in particular, their vocal support for the unionization effort and complaints about working conditions at the store.

Some workers, particularly those at Collegetown, have been shaken more than others, but even those from other locations in Ithaca are feeling the burden and trying to rally support for their crosstown colleagues.

“I don’t regret working [at Starbucks], and I don’t think I’ll ever regret working there because I think what’s happening with the Starbucks campaign is really important,” the worker said. “However, when I first started, and all these union pushes were going public and winning elections, that filled me with joy. […] And having to beg for more hours now, without getting any raises, my expenses are still more than my income, and it’s a grind.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com