Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks will be closing its first store to unionize in its home state. The company is claiming it’s shutting down the store, located at Broadway and Denny, due to “safety concerns.” But employees and the public think this may be an effort to throttle unionization in the company.
“Unfortunately, despite several mitigating efforts, safety and security incidents at our Broadway and Denny store have continued to escalate,” Andrew Trull, a Starbucks spokesperson, said. Back in July, Interim CEO Howard Schultz posted a video to social media, indicating the company was “beginning to close stores” due to safety issues. Schultz claimed “personal safety” is one of the biggest concerns Starbucks’ has with its partners. “This is just the beginning. There are going to be many more.”
Starbucks announced it would be closing five stores in Seattle, and sixteen nationwide due to this issue. According to the Seattle Police Department, there were 97 incidents at that Broadway and Denny store between January 1st, 2020 and July 10th, 2022. For some perspective, there were 68 incidents at the Union Square Starbucks and 157 at the Central District location. Both of which closed during the summer. The company is also pushing more towards a drive-thru model, which may be used as another justification for these closures.
Rachel Ybarra, a barista at the Seattle store for three years, has seen these security issues first hand, including assaults on staff and customers. Because of these issues, employees asked managers for security guards and social workers, but that help never came. “There’s definitely a safety issue at the store,” Ybarra said. “It is a completely preventable one, and it’s one that the company has never bothered to address.”
In the video, Schultz even cites mental health and drug abuse as contributing factors for these safety concerns. Making the store’s requests even more appropriate because deescalating these situations is not something employees’ are trained to do. Starbucks claims its mitigation efforts in the past have included closing patios, modifying store formats, and engaging with local law enforcement and/or the community. The company says it reviews customers’ and workers’ experiences and will shut down a store if safety concerns persist.
Regarding the closure announcement, a Starbucks spokesperson said, “we will bargain with the union in good faith to discuss the impact of this decision on our partners – including opportunities to transfer to other area stores.” And the union has made it clear the store will not close without a fight. If Starbucks is looking to bust up unions they have rocky road head. Considering, two weeks ago 259 stores voted to unionize and 57 voted against it. Last week workers across the country went on a one-day strike to protest the company’s retaliation against unionizing efforts. Also, no new contracts have been negotiated, including stores that voted to unionize close to a year ago.
“This is the most clear-cut case of retaliation this company has shown closing a union store yet,” Starbucks Workers United said in a statement on the Broadway and Denny location’s closure. “Starbucks and Howard Schultz are playing petty games with worker’s lives. They lack respect not only for the rights of their workers, but for the law of this country.”
This store will be closing to customers on December 9th, which is also the anniversary of the first Starbucks’ union being formed in Buffalo, New York. It’s kind of hard not to read into that choice.