Starbucks is shutting down one of the first Chicago locations where workers unionized – just days before the company was set to begin negotiations on a contract.
The Edgewater coffee shop, located at Bryn Mawr and Winthrop avenues, is set to close at the end of this month. Starbucks says the location is closing because of ongoing safety issues the company could not solve, but organizers and their supporters say the shutdown is a tactic to weaken the union.
Employee and union supporter Carlos Toral says the store does have problems with safety, including incidents of harassment or even assault on a regular basis.
“At the same time ... they’re closing our union, they’re ending this store’s unionization, and that is 110% union-busting,” Toral said. “The timing of it all is also pretty sketch and quite on the nose.”
On the nose, because workers say the closure was announced just days after they got a date on the books for their first bargaining session with the company – scheduled for later this month.
Around the country, Starbucks has temporarily or permanently closed locations that unionized or that organizers say were interested in unionizing, including in Buffalo, New York; Kansas City, Missouri; Seattle, and now in Chicago.
In response, workers and their allies organized a so-called “sip-in” Thursday, asking members of the community to show their support by coming to the cafe and ordering drinks under the name “union strong.”
“This is what the CEO wants (people) to see, that there’s a downside of joining a union,” said supporter Ivy Czekanski. “We need to stand with the workers so that they can stay brave and not lose their livelihoods.”
Starbucks has faced a raft of complaints from workers and the National Labor Relations Board over alleged retaliation against pro-union workers and locations, which the company has consistently denied.
In a statement on the Edgewater location’s shutdown, a Starbucks spokesperson told WTTW News: “We continue to equip our partners with the training, policies and information they need to address the societal challenges that cross our store thresholds every day. But when these efforts aren’t enough to ensure our partners’ safety, we will make the decision to close a store, regardless of its revenue or union status.”
Because this location is unionized, workers can bargain with the company over the effects of the shutdown.
“I really hope that the best interest of the partners (is) the main focus,” Toral said. “This store closure (is) affecting all of our (lives), my life, my bills, my day-to-day.”
The union representing Starbucks workers says it plans to amend an existing unfair labor practice charge against the company over its closure of pro-union stores to include the Edgewater location.