Two days after the Starbucks chairman and former CEO Howard Schultz was grilled during a Senate committee hearing on the company’s response to union organizing at its stores, Starbucks fired three union organizers and disciplined another organizer in the Buffalo, New York, area where the union campaign began.
Among those to lose their jobs was Lexi Rizzo, a shift supervisor for seven years in Buffalo at one of the first stores to unionize and a leading founder of the union campaign. The union has characterized the actions as retaliation.
“My store manager was sobbing her eyes out when she was firing me about how much she knew I loved and cared about my store and how she didn’t want to do this. I put everything I have into my store,” said Rizzo, who was fired on Friday 31 March. “It’s honestly, so far in my life, one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve had happen. Anyone that I work with, any of my partners would attest to how much I love and care for my store.”
Rizzo worked at one of the first two Starbucks stores to unionize in the US in Buffalo and has served on the organizing committee since the campaign first launched in August 2021. Starbucks denied the store manager sobbed when firing Rizzo.
Rizzo said the reason provided for her termination was tardiness, with the latest cited tardiness being two months ago. Previous write-ups she received were included in a sweeping administrative law judge decision issued in March 2023 over firings, retaliation and retaliatory discipline of Starbucks workers in the Buffalo area, with Starbucks noting one tardiness write-up was upheld in the decision.
“They cited two times when I was one minute late to work. Another time, I was four minutes late to work and another time, I was five minutes late to work,” said Rizzo. “The one minute late can be clocking into the iPads because these iPads used to clock in, they take forever to load. For those, that’s just absurd to me, and the other times I had called the store to let them know I was going to be running late due to weather,” argued Rizzo.
Starbucks claims there were several late attendance infractions that were longer.
In a sometimes combative Senate hearing last week Senator Bernie Sanders accused Starbucks of running “the most aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign in the modern history of our country”. Schultz dismissed the charges as “allegations” and said: “Starbucks has not broken the law.”
Starbucks Workers United has claimed more than 200 workers at Starbucks stores involved in union organizing campaigns have been fired throughout the campaign. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) or judges have issued orders to reinstate 22 Starbucks employees so far, though not all orders have been enforced yet. Administrative law judges found violations of the National Labor Relations Act in eight cases against Starbucks.
Starbucks has disputed all court and board rulings against them and rejected all charges of retaliation against workers for unionizing.
To date, about 300 Starbucks stores have won union elections around the US, with hundreds of unfair labor practice charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board still being reviewed and adjudicated.
Gianna Reeve, another Starbucks union leader in Buffalo was issued with a write-up right after she was alerted that Rizzo had been fired. Two other workers involved with the union in Buffalo were also reportedly fired late last week.
“I kind of knew something was going to happen before I ever clocked in. I woke up to get ready for my shift and I looked to see a text and a group chat from Lexi Rizzo, saying they just fired me and feeling my heart sink into my stomach, because Lexi was the first of us. She’s the whole reason why Starbucks Workers United exists,” said Reeve.
She said that when she went into work, a manager she had never seen before was with her store manager to give her a disciplinary write-up.
“My crime is putting the blinds down at sunset,” said Reeve. “It’s just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life, and this happened two days after Howard Schultz testified in the Senate. It’s the most vindictive thing that Starbucks could have attempted. Time and time again, we want to extend an olive branch. We don’t want this to keep happening. We do not want a war and yet Starbucks continues on a warpath.” Starbucks did not comment directly on the details of Reeve’s write-up.
A GoFundMe was launched to support Lexi Rizzo and her co-workers held a strike at her store over the weekend in protest of her firing. Rizzo explained the termination came as her partner has been out of work while recovering from a debilitating bike incident and she is filing an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB over her firing. Starbucks denied the firing was retaliatory, and cited attendance write-ups
“I will fight tooth and nail to get my job back,” added Rizzo. “I love my store. I love my partners, I love this company. Even despite all of this, I still truly believe that this company could be a beautiful place to work again.”
A Starbucks spokesperson said in an email: “Our policies exist to maintain a welcoming environment for all partners and customers, and interest in a union does not exempt partners from following policies and procedures that apply to all.
“Separations follow clear violations of policies only and in this case, the partner had been on progressive discipline for missing more than four hours of work over six instances. We appreciate that our Genesee Street partners provided the Starbucks Experience to each other and our customers Saturday morning, and that all area stores continue to serve customers without interruption.”
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