Astoria Starbucks Workers Strike, Again

Workers and supporters chanted, “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”

By Iryna Shkurhan |

Workers at two unionized Starbucks in Astoria joined over a hundred stores across the country to strike for fair labor practices on March 22, the same day as the company’s ‘Founder’s Day’ celebration.

The majority of workers at the store on Astoria Boulevard and the corner of 31st Street, were outside at 7 a.m., armed with posters and chanting their demands for a contract negotiation to secure better wages and working conditions. Despite the train loudly rumbling overhead and complaints of strained voices, close to 20 people marched on the corner until 1pm. 

“I’m happy to join other union stores on strike today because it’s never been more necessary than right now,” said James Carr, a Starbucks partner for four years. “Our union is small but now unstoppable, and we’re ready to start making moves.”

This location became the first Starbucks store in Queens to unionize after securing a unanimous vote on June 6, 2022 following a months-long effort in which one employee was illegally fired for unionizing. But, despite the successful unionization of 280 stores since 2019, not a single contract has been signed in food faith due to Starbucks failing to negotiate with union representatives. Workers say that while unionization has given them more bargaining power and a sense of national solidarity, they are still experiencing unfair labor practices such as illegal cuts to work hours and inconsistent scheduling. 

“There’s a huge disconnect here between what we’re seeing on the shop floor, and the kind of money that executives are making,” said Maria Flores, who has worked at this location for three years. “We’re being priced out of New York as it is. We can’t afford rent, we can’t pay bills, we can barely afford our medical coverage.”

Outgoing Starbucks CEO, Howard Shultz, is being investigated for union busting that started in 2019. He is set to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on March 29, to avoid being subpoenaed. Shultz stepped down as CEO on March 20, two weeks earlier than previously announced amid growing scrutiny. He still remains on the Board. 

“Rather than publicizing rallies and protests, we encourage Workers United to live up to their obligations by responding to our proposed sessions and meeting us in-person to move the good faith bargaining process forward,” said a Starbucks spokesperson in an email to the Queens Ledger. 

A Dunkin cup and bag can be seen at the table the organizers of the strike set up.

Workers say that Starbucks has failed to meet them at the bargaining table in an earnest way. Earlier this month, prosecutors at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleged that Starbucks violated labor law by refusing to engage by refusing to bargain if some workers attended the session remotely. The objection to the hybrid model in negotiation sessions has been the main way Starbucks has delayed granting unionized stores their demands. 

Several workers said that the company is illegally cutting their work hours under the New York Fair Work Week Law in Fast Food that bans a reduction of work hours by more than 15% week to week. After the rush of the holiday season is over, employees typically know to expect a reduction in hours due to a slower rush. 

According to the law, employees are entitled to a regular schedule that has at least 85% of the work hours in their baseline regular schedule. Employers cannot request employees to consent to a reduction, but hours can be reduced if there is a just cause or good faith economic reason.

Workers allege that there is a four dollar pay differential between shift supervisors whose responsibilities include tracking inventory, opening and closing the store and handling money, compared to baristas who are responsible for taking orders and preparing food and beverages. Employees say that at this location, shift supervisors are being denied both covering barista shifts and shift supervisor shifts due to the pay differential. 

“We make every effort and have invested significant resources to ensure partner scheduling practices are in alignment with New York City’s Fair Workweek Law,” said the Starbucks spokesperson by email.

Employees on strike say that the inconsistency in scheduling is affecting their financial security and ability to afford essentials amid inflation and a rising cost of living in New York City. 

“We’re being nickeled and dimed here at the store level,” said Flores.

On Wednesday, workers filed an additional ten complaints against Starbucks to the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), after filing 28 complaints last month. DCWP confirmed that there is an open investigation into complaints around the NYC Fair Workweek Law. 

Last July, Austin Locke was fired from the Astoria Blvd. location for engaging in unionization efforts following a successful vote. He was reinstated with $21,000 in back pay and penalties after DCWP found that his termination was in violation of the “just cause” protections of the Fair Workweek Law.

On a wider scale, the NLRB has issued 80 complaints against Starbucks, including illegally firing more than a dozen workers in retaliation for unionizing across the country. There have been over 500 unfair labor practice charges lodged against this company. 

During the time of the strike, the store appeared empty and was not accepting mobile orders as usual. Two employees, and the general manager, did not participate in the strike and were able to keep the store open despite low traffic due to community support of the strike. 

A table outside the store held up signs that read “We Demand a Seat at the Table Now!” and “Starbucks: Respect your Workers’ Right to Organize.” Next to a megaphone, sat a Dunkin’ cup. 


Midwives at Elmhurst rally for fair contract

Dozens of health care workers and their supporters took to the picket line outside Elmhurst Hospital last week to demand a fair union contract for the seven full-time midwives who work at the facility.
“We happily worked through the pandemic with all of the positive moms and babies,” said Keeley McNamara, who has been a midwife at Elmhurst Hospital for the past 10 years. “We changed our schedules, we rearranged everything in our lives and some of us got COVID, yet we continue to work without a contract.
“We are only asking for parity with other HHC hospitals so that we can hire and retain good midwives and continue to serve the community we love,” she added.
Midwives at Elmhurst Hospital Center, who are health care professionals trained to assist women in childbirth, are part of the Mount Sinai Health System.
The group unanimously decided to join the New York State Nurses Association two-and-a-half years ago, but they say the hospital network has refused to negotiate a fair contract, leaving them overworked and underpaid.
“This community was the epicenter of the epicenter of the pandemic,” said Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, one of several elected officials who attended the rally last Wednesday to support the cause. “We opened our windows and banged our pots and pans to thank our essential workers, yet our midwives were working overtime with lesser pay literally saving lives every day. They are our heroes and ‘she-roes’ and we demand equity.”
Jonathan Forgash, co-founder of Queens Together, an organization that provided meals to Elmhurst Hospital staff and its midwives since early April 2020, said he joined the picket line because he knows firsthand about the sacrifices that were made by the midwives during the pandemic.
“Keeley lives in the same apartment building as me and my family,” he said. “When the midwives were switched from maternity to COVID patient care, we saw her come home to her family exhausted every night.
“We heard stories about their work and care for those sick and dying,” Forgash continued. “We heard stories about insufficient PPE or none at all. I knew we needed to show them some love, that people were grateful for their personal sacrifice and care.”
Elmhurst Hospital’s chief midwife Margaret Re, who has been working for the facility for more than 20 years, said she contracted COVID at the hospital during the pandemic but returned to work as soon as she was able.
She admits the hours are grueling, but said she does what she does for the community she is committed to serving.
“Why is it so difficult?” asked Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz. “Mount Sinai should be at the table in good faith listening to the needs of folks who, quite frankly, are serving a community that is making [Mount Sinai’s] pockets pretty rich.
Yet they don’t want to talk about giving this amazing team of midwives their just due,” she added. “We are not asking for much. We are simply asking that they get the dignity, the respect, and the money they deserve.”

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