BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Starbucks, the largest coffee house in the nation, has closed two of its Buffalo-area stores that are attempting to become the first locations in the country to unionize.
Starbucks told News 4 that the two closures have nothing to do with the union efforts. The Elmwood Village location is set to re-open next week after renovations while the store at Walden Avenue and Anderson Road in Cheektowaga will be used indefinitely for training, the company said. No workers lost their jobs in the closures.
But Starbucks workers believe the closures are part of an anti-union campaign they feel Starbucks has waged since it found out a few months ago that employees, or “partners” as Starbucks refers to them, have been working with Workers United to unionize.
The workers told News 4 that the closures, along with Starbucks’ partnership with Little Mendelson — the largest anti-union law firm in the United States — and the deluge of executives and managers to the Buffalo area are proof that the Starbucks higher-ups are attempting to break up the union efforts.
“I think it is sending a very clear message that they have no desire to let us organize,” said Michelle Eisen, a barista and union supporter who works at the Elmwood store.
Three local Starbucks stores are attempting to unionize: The one in Elmwood Village, one on Genesee Street by the airport, and one on Camp Road in Hamburg. Two other stores, the Walden-Anderson store in Cheektowaga and Transit Commons in Amherst, postponed their union drives to focus efforts on the other locations. (The Elmwood Village location is still pushing to unionize despite the temporary store closure.)
A union source told News 4 that two Cheektowaga stores – one by the international airport and the Walden-Anderson store – have high percentages of workers who support unionizing.
Reggie Borges, a spokesman for Starbucks, said renovations for the Elmwood store were scheduled six months ago and that the store will re-open in a week. Workers did not dispute this but did raise the question of why Starbucks is making all of these changes and renovations now during a union campaign when workers have been complaining about store conditions for years.
Eisen said the renovations at the Elmwood store have been postponed several times and it “seems a little suspicious to me” that Starbucks closed the store to finish renovations when this specific store “had almost 100% union support.”
The Cheektowaga store was closed, Borges said, after “partners expressed concern at the condition of the store.”
Starbucks is using the Cheektowaga store for training, and Borges said “partners at the store are not losing hours and are being provided times at other stores, which is not uncommon.”
“Training stores are one of the more common tools we use when supporting partners in a market. We’ve previously stood up stores in markets as a way to more effectively train new partners and refresh partners who may need additional support,” Borges said.
Borges said partners take shifts of different stores, not just their home base stores, so Starbucks does not see the training store being a disruption. Borges also said partners told Starbucks that training was inadequate, therefore, “that was the reason we stood up the training store.”
But Eisen said Starbucks workers who support unionizing see the closure as a tactic to interfere with their unionizing effort.
“In my 11 years in the company in this area, I have never seen a store shut down under the premise of being used for training of new partners,” Eisen said.
“It doesn’t make any sense. You would not train a partner in a store that is not going to be their home store; stores are set up differently. I think it is a way to vet the new partners to see where they fall with union support. It is also a way to put anti-union rhetoric in their heads before they get to a store that has union supporters working in it.”