ITHACA, N.Y.—One of Ithaca’s two Starbucks locations is joining in with nationwide protests over allegations of union-busting by the coffee shop giant. Several workers crowded outside the Starbucks location on East Seneca Street as snow fell and chants rang out.

Workers around the country marked the first day of Starbucks’ annual holiday red cup campaign by staging protests as the tug-of-war over Starbucks unionization continues. More than 100 stores participated, including thousands of workers.

While more and more stores around the country have voted “Yes” to unionizing, the company has responded with a range of reactions, including public comments by CEO Howard Schultz and even some acts, like allegedly closing the Collegteown Ithaca location in retaliation for its vocal unionization — allegations made by the National Labor Relations Board.

Similar stories have been touted by other stores around the country that say they have faced retaliation, resulting in an ongoing series of headlines and social media activity regarding how Starbucks has treated workers who have unionized or are unionizing.

Notably, the South Meadow Street Starbucks location, which has experienced fluctuating hours but slightly less vocal union support than the Commons location, did not participate in the strike. Like the other two locations (though Collegteown has now been closed), South Meadow Street voted to unionize in April.

Recently, the Starbucks Workers United union in Ithaca has been objecting to the termination of two employees from Ithaca stores, Johnnee Maclean and Kiki. The union argues both of the workers, who were the last former Collegetown Starbucks employees left at the South Meadow Street store, were fired for petty reasons considering their service to the company.

The union says that Kiki, whose pronouns are they/them, worked at the company for 3.5 years before their termination for failing to verify COVID pre-checks (a brief list of questions employees have to fill out when coming into work). Maclean, on the other hand, was fired after 4.5 years for two instances of tardiness, according to the union.

These two instances, they argue, are the latest example of Starbucks cracking down unnecessarily on workers for their involvement in unionization. Starbucks, obviously, pushed back on the allegation in a statement to The Ithaca Voice.

“Allegations of retaliation are false,” said Andrew Trull, a Starbucks spokesperson. “No Starbucks partner has been, or will be, disciplined for supporting or engaging in lawful union activity — but interest in a union does not exempt partners from following policies and procedures that apply to all partners. Our partners receive training on our policies and are aware that failing to uphold them can result in termination.”

Trull wrote that the two workers who were fired had received warnings but he said that they had continued to violate work rules around tardiness and workplace safety.

The hearing on Starbucks’ conduct in Ithaca is still slated for February 2023.

Matt Butler

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