Ditmars Starbucks worker claims illegal firing

Starbucks worker Austin Locke has been a leading voice for the unionization of the Starbucks at 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard.

He has worked there for the past three years, spending six in total with the company.

Austin Locke protesting outside Starbucks

His name was the first in the letter workers sent to Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz detailing how they have experienced “all sorts of harassment, racism, sexism, and physical violence on top of fewer hours, meager wages, and poor staffing.”

Less than a week after he and his team unionized on June 30—making them the second in Queens to do so—Locke was fired on July 5 for what he calls “bogus reasons” in a video posted to the official Twitter account of the organizers at the Ditmars Boulevard Starbucks (DitmarsSBWU).

“I was just recently fired here illegally for unionizing the store,” he said in the video, in which he also announced a rally will be held on July 22 at 6 p.m.

A Starbucks spokesperson denies these allegations, instead stating that Locke was fired due to violating health and safety standards, failing to comply with COVID-19 violations and violating the Starbucks code of ethics.

“Austin Locke is no longer with Starbucks for blatant violations of our health and safety standards, as well as failing to uphold our mission and values,” a spokesperson stated. “Our health and safety standards are in place to protect our partners and the communities we serve, and we cannot ignore blatant violations that put others at risk. A partner’s interest in a union does not exempt them from the standards we have always held. We will continue to consistently enforce our policies.”

Having two previous violations during his time with Starbucks, a spokesperson stated that he received his third violation, or “corrective action,” when he refused to have his temperature taken when he showed up for work the day after calling out sick with COVID-19.

He also alleged a coworker had physical contact with him, despite video evidence proving that to be false, according to the Starbucks spokesperson.

Locke is demanding reinstatement and backpay for the days since he was fired, and announced via Twitter that there will be a rally on July 22 at 6 p.m. for these demands.

The demands of the Ditmars Starbucks include increased wages, free full-coverage healthcare, and more sick time. Among elected officials who have shown support for the recent vote to unionize is State Senator Michael Gianaris.

“Congratulations to the latest Queens Starbucks workers exercising their right to organize and join a union,” he said in a recent statement. “Organized labor is the foundation of a strong working class, which we need now more than ever. I am thrilled this movement keeps growing, and I am proud of the workers leading this fight.”

Half a mile away, the Astoria Boulevard and 31st Street Starbucks celebrated a unanimous vote on June 6, making it the first in Queens.

The two Starbucks join a movement of hundreds of other stores that are making clear their frustration with being underpaid and understaffed.

Such a movement can be seen In Buffalo, New York, where a unionized Starbucks on Elmwood Avenue informed local leaders they would be going on strike on July 9 due to changing staff schedules.

In a message published on the Starbucks news website on July 11, Shultz — who returned to Starbucks as interim CEO in April after retiring in 2018 — states that “we need to reinvent Starbucks for the future.”

He presents, in this message, five new moves to reinvent Starbucks, and a set of principles for a new partnership at Starbucks.

This message can be found at stories.starbucks.com.

Chipotle unionizer returns to work

Brenda Garcia, a 31-year-old Chipotle worker from Queens, returned to work last week, just days after she says she was fired for speaking out on the fast food chain’s scheduling practices and speaking with her co-workers about forming a union.

The Flushing resident and single mother of one says she was fired after she called in sick, despite having three sick days to use. In response, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ filed charges under the National Labor Relations Act, accusing Chipotle of firing her for union activity.

Four days later, Garcia returned to work at 136-61 Roosevelt Avenue, with the backing of local Councilmember Sandra Ung.

“This shows that when we speak up we can make a difference,” said Garcia. “Chipotle must respect workers, give us the opportunity to grow and respect our right to organize a union. I’m ready to get my job back and to keep fighting for the shifts and a schedule that I need to survive and to support my son.”

Councilmember Ung added, “I’m delighted to be here to stand alongside Brenda as she returns to work after being unjustly terminated. I thank 32BJ for amplifying Brenda’s story, and for all it continues to do to support the fight for fair working conditions for working-class people.”

In a statement to The Queens Ledger, Chipotle says Garcia was never terminated, but rather requested two weeks off.

“Ms. Garcia was never terminated, however, on April 18, she requested two weeks off,” said Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer. “We are pleased that she returned to work exactly two weeks later on May 2.”

Among the provisions of the city’s Fair Workweek Law is that employers must offer more hours and additional shifts to current employees before hiring new help. Last year, the city filed a lawsuit alleging that Chipotle had violated the Fair Workweek Law almost 600,000 times in a two-year span.

Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ, says the union still has a complaint filed against Chipotle alleging anti-union intimidation tactics and for creating an atmosphere of surveillance.

“We are glad in this case that Chipotle made this decision to bring Brenda back,” Bragg said. “But the charge of alleging anti-union intimidation, threats and creating an impression of surveillance remains. This is why workers need a union at Chipotle.”

Astoria Starbucks first in Queens to file to unionize

An Astoria Starbucks is filing for a union, the first of its kind in Queens.

The store, located at 30-18 Astoria Boulevard, announced its plans to file a petition for a union election in a letter written to President and CEO Howard Schultz.

“The organizing committee at Astoria Blvd. firmly stands in solidarity with unionization efforts across the country,” the letter reads. “The same courage of stores before us has empowered our baristas to take positive action. We are cautiously excited for the future of a company that is reflective of its workforce and not of corporate greed.”

The Astoria location is part of more than 145 stores across the country that have filed to unionize.

Elected officials at all levels of government showed their support for the workers at the Astoria Boulevard store with a letter of support and impromptu visits to the store.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani and Councilmember Tiffany Cabán all signed on to the letter calling for Schultz to sign the Fair Election Principles and respecting the workers’ right to organize.

“Every worker should have the right to organize a union and bargain collectively,” Gianaris said. “I stand with the workers at my local store and the entire Starbucks Workers United effort as they fight for better working conditions and fair pay for all associates. I call on Starbucks to allow the free, unencumbered election these workers deserve.”

In February, three Starbucks locations in New York City made their first efforts to unionize, just weeks after three more stores in Buffalo were the first to do so. The first union elections in New York City will be an in-person vote at the Roastery at the end of the month.

The Astor Place location will be voting by mail with ballots going out at the start of next month, and ballots for Caesar’s Bay in Brooklyn, Great Neck in Long Island, and Massapequa in Long Island will go out a week later.

Brandi Aldu, a Starbucks Workers United organizing committee member, said, “My fellow partners and I decided to unionize because we are forced to manage the consequences of decisions we were not a part of, made by people who don’t understand what it is like to live a life as a Starbucks barista.”

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