December 1, 2022

New York City sues Starbucks for firing union organizer

NEW YORK, Sept 2 (Reuters) – A New York City agency overseeing workplace affairs said on Friday it sued Starbucks Corp because the coffee chain illegally fired a barista longtime union organizer and soon after his store employees voted to join a union.

The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection called the case on behalf of Austin Locke, a Starbucks employee for 5 1/2 years, the first in the city to violate “just cause” protections under the law. a 2017 law intended to protect fast food workers.

The Fair Work Week Act prohibits fast food employers from firing or laying off workers, or reducing their hours by more than 15%, without cause or legitimate economic reason.

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According to a petition filed with the city’s Office of Administrative Tracks and Hearings, Starbucks fired Locke on July 5, a month after employees at its store in the Astoria section of the Borough of Queens decided to unionize.

The lawsuit seeks reinstatement and back pay for Locke, as well as civil penalties.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said the Seattle-based company is not discussing pending litigation, but plans to defend itself against allegations that it violated the law.

The petition said Starbucks claimed it fired Locke because he failed to complete a questionnaire required by its COVID-19 protocols, and falsely reported that a supervisor made unwanted contact during a dispute by placing his hand on Locke’s chest.

Both incidents took place two days after the unionization vote, the petition states.

In a statement provided by the city, Locke said “Starbucks continues to wrongfully fire pro-union workers across the country in retaliation for union organizing.”

He called on Starbucks to negotiate a contract with Starbucks Workers United, which represents employees at more than 200 stores.

Last month, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc (CMG.N) agreed to pay about 13,000 workers $20 million to settle city allegations that it violated the Fair Work Week Act.

Chipotle has been accused of not giving workers their schedules two weeks in advance, giving a bonus for unscheduled shifts and letting workers use accumulated sick leave.

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Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Josie Kao

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