Workers at a unionized Starbucks coffee shop in Edgewater walked off the job Tuesday, protesting what they say is a pattern of the company illegally disciplining employees as retaliation for organizing. Similar charges have been echoed by pro-union Starbucks workers around the U.S.
Emily Alaimo, who works at the Clark and Ridge location, says management’s attitude has changed dramatically since organizing efforts began.
“We kind of had a culture of, it’s very chill, it’s a fun place to work, and so if you’re clocking in a couple minutes late here and there, no one’s going to get on your back for it – until the unionization started, and now it’s like we have targets on our back,” Alaimo said.
Alaimo says she was just given a final warning. Among her writeups were for a day when she says she was sick with a stomach bug but still told to come in – and got physically ill on her way to work.
“Because of everything I was seven minutes late,” Alaimo said. “I told my manager, ‘I’m sick, this is what’s happening, this is why I’m late,’ and she said, ‘Well, I really still need you to be here so that nobody else is stressed out.’”
A spokesperson told WTTW News in a statement, “Starbucks has great partners and we value their contributions. We respect our partners’ right to engage in any legally protected activity or protest without retaliation. We are grateful for each partner who continues to work and we always do our best to listen to the concerns of all our partners.”
The Edgewater Starbucks is one of seven unionized locations in the Chicago area and one of more than 200 around the U.S. So far, none of the unionized coffee shops has a contract. Edgewater worker Chris Trascapoulos is a member of the national bargaining committee and says the company won’t come to the table.
“We’ve sent out mass letters on behalf of stores across the country and we haven’t heard anything back. It’s frustrating. We want to work in good faith, and they keep saying they want to as well, but we just don’t hear back from them,” Trascapoulos said.
Employees around the country have accused Starbucks of retaliating against pro-union workers. The National Labor Relations Board has accused the company of an array of violations, including wrongly terminating employees and withholding raises. Starbucks has consistently denied claims of union busting, calling them “categorically false” and saying the company will defend itself against unfair labor practice charges.
Emily Alaimo says the narrative that pro-union workers are entitled is off the mark.
“We are out here working so hard, doing this unpaid work, to make things better for everybody,” Alaimo said. “And it’s because Starbucks is unwilling to do so.”