Starbucks will close 16 US stores by the end of July, citing safety concerns and disruptive behavior at locations in Los Angeles, Seattle and other large cities.
Six stores in Seattle, six in LA, two in Portland, one in Philadelphia and one in Washington DC will close, a Starbucks spokesperson confirmed.
In a letter to employees published on Monday, Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson, senior vice-presidents of US operations at Starbucks, said the company was prioritizing “creating a safe, welcoming, and kind third place”.
The executives said the coffee giant’s stores were not immune to problems related to mental health and drug use.
Announcing the planned closures, Starbucks said it could also make adjustments to stores to ensure employee safety. Such measures might include changing furniture layouts, hours of operation and staffing, as well as installing bathroom occupancy sensors or alarms.
The letter also said a store could close a restroom if it was no longer possible to guarantee employee safety.
Workers at the stores that are closing are able to ask to be reassigned to nearby stores, the company said.
The closure announcement comes as a Starbucks union organizing campaign that began in Buffalo, New York, spreads to other states and cities.
Earlier this month, Starbucks announced it would shut down a store in Ithaca, New York, several weeks after its workers voted to unionize.
The company had been accused of unfair labor practices in response to unionization. Starbucks called the allegations “false”.
About 300 stores have filed for union elections since the first US store unionized in December. Despite the company’s opposition to unionization efforts, more than 100 stores have won elections so far.
Two of the stores that will now close are already unionized. Starbucks said the decision to close was unrelated to unionization efforts.
Employees at one of the stores that will close, in Portland, accused the company of union-busting through the closures. The store has an ongoing union campaign with ballots scheduled to be counted on 5 August.
“It is clear to anyone that has worked at Starbucks that the company doesn’t prioritize our safety until it behooves them,” read a statement from the workers organizing in the Portland store. “They won’t make alterations to store operations until after we’ve filed for union election.”
Upon demand from a recognized union, Starbucks would have to bargain over the effects of the store closure, said Robert Fetter, a labor attorney with the law firm Miller Cohen.
“They don’t have to bargain whether to close it, but they do have to bargain the effects of the closure on the employees,” said Fetter.
A unionized store in Seattle pinned a letter to its storefront expressing discontent over the store shutdown plan.
“We think it is insulting to claim they care about our mental and physical health, then threaten the financial safety of every single worker of this location,” the letter said.