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.
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.