‘They don’t care about us’: US Starbucks workers allege they were fired for union activity

Nine Colorado employees claim their dismissals came after an organizing campaign in response to safety concerns and pay problems

Nine Starbucks workers at three stores in Denver, Colorado, who were fired shortly after their stores voted to unionize allege they were dismissed in retaliation for union organizing at the American coffee chain giant.

The firings are among a few dozen cases around the US where workers have alleged they have been fired from the coffee retail chain during a union organizing campaign at their store. More than 180 Starbucks corporate retail stores in the US have voted to unionize, and more than 300 have filed for union elections.

Ryan Dinaro, a shift supervisor at the 16th and Tremont store in Denver who worked at Starbucks for around four years, was fired shortly after his store won their union election in May, along with four other workers at his store, and five others at two other Denver stores according to the union.

Dinaro explained the union organizing campaign started in January after seeing Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York, win their union election in December 2021. He said they were organizing in response to safety concerns, policy changes and pay problems as inflation and rising prices hit Dinaro and his co-workers.

“Partners are selling their blood at the store, myself included, I’ve sold my blood to get some extra money,” said Dinaro. “What we’re simply asking for is safety in the workplace, adequate pay to address the strain inflation is placing on us and the ability to have a say on unilateral policy changes that affect us.”

He argued that leading up to the union election and after it, Starbucks increased management presence in stores and began strictly enforcing company policies, where nine workers involved in union organizing at the stores in Denver were fired in just a few weeks after the union election wins.

Dinaro claimed the firings were in retaliation for union organizing.

“I came in late the second time in six months, and Starbucks decided that is enough to fire me. They decided that they’re going to enforce attendance and punctuality very hard in my case,” he said. “It’s an attack on our legal rights to organize. We’re addressing these violations through all the legal channels and all the public channels we can but they’ll get away with it for a while because the courts are slow.”

Hannah, 28, who requested to keep her last name anonymous for fear of discrimination from prospective employers, was fired from her job days after her Starbucks store on Holly Street and Leetsdale Drive in Denver voted to unionize.

She explained that leading up to the union election, her store had a constant presence of managers from outside the store who were constantly surveilling and scrutinizing workers. In five years at Starbucks, she rarely saw district or regional managers, who were suddenly at her store on a regular basis.

“Every single day for three months, I walked in expecting to be fired. For five weeks in a row they would sit me down with a district manager and manager interrogating me about what happened on this day, what about this customer interaction, and they were just taking notes and some of them were complete blatant lies that they made up,” she said.

Hannah described the surveillance and constant scrutiny as harboring a toxic work environment that she said forced many workers to quit. Other complaints included reducing store hours, enforcing policies such as dress codes or whether a worker clocked in a minute early or a minute late and denying all her time off requests.

“They were clearly trying to get me out of there because I was the most vocal about unionizing and encouraging others to be pro-union,” she added. “They do not care about their workers. They call us partners. They treat us like garbage when we ask for the teeniest bit more.”

Monique McGeorge, 60, worked at the Holly Street and Leetsdale Drive Starbucks location in Denver for more than a year before she was fired shortly after workers at the store voted to unionize.

Semi-retired and working part-time, McGeorge, strongly supported her younger co-workers who wanted to unionize. She said after the union vote, the store reduced its hours and the presence of outside managers in the store significantly increased.

“People were getting written up for little incidents and it was mainly people that were supporting the union,” said McGeorge. “The Starbucks culture has changed and they’re going to do what they’re going to do to not have the union and it’s blatantly obvious. I just cannot believe the amount of people that have been fired just in the Denver area alone because they’ve supported the union.”

McGeorge explained her firing resulted from getting a write-up while working the drive-thru short-staffed.

“They fired me and I’ve been there 15 months with no write-ups. I’ve never been in trouble,” said McGeorge, who noted an outside manager was the one who told her she was fired after working a shift on 24 May. “When they gave it to me, I just laughed at him. I said, ‘You guys are really cleaning house aren’t you?’ Because it was pathetic.”

Starbucks did not respond to requests for a comment by time of publication.


Michael Sainato

The GuardianTramp

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