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What They’re Not Telling You About Bay Area Starbucks Closures

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Is your neighborhood Starbucks closed? 

According to local news reports, several Starbucks locations are struggling with “staffing shortages.” Considering that we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, this seems plausible. But there’s a larger story at play here that’s not making headlines. 

Last December, employees at the Elmwood Starbucks location in Buffalo, New York, were the first set of employees across 9,000 Starbucks locations in the United States who successfully voted to unionize, according to a report by Democracy Now! 

“The victory in Buffalo came despite Starbucks’ union busting efforts and could trigger similar drives at more of its stores across the country,” Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman stated. 

Goodman spoke to Jaz Brisack, Starbucks barista and leader of Elmwood’s unionizing efforts, who had a compelling message to share: 

“This company that says they’re a social justice company hired Littler Mendelson, which is the most notorious union-busting law firm in the country, and ran not even a textbook anti-union campaign, but an almost unprecedented anti-union campaign of bringing in the COO, the president of Starbucks North America (John Culver), and all of their other corporate underlings to try to disrupt Buffalo.” 

As highlighted by Brisack, Starbucks’ anti-union reaction is rather ironic, considering the company’s ethos. 

“Starbucks has long touted its internal culture, which it says is built on a strong relationship between management and employees,” said Wall Street Journal reporter Heather Haddon last month

In fact, Starbucks employees are not referred to as workers or baristas, but as “partners,” as each employee is offered the opportunity to invest in the company’s “Bean Stock.”

“[The company] calls unions an ‘intermediary,’” Haddon explained. “They do not want that relationship to be severed.” 

(Photo courtesy WSJ)

So why the push for unions now? 

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has been especially brutal for those who work within the food service industry. Yahoo Finance reported that “heavier workloads, delayed breaks, and shortage of personal protective equipment” were just a handful of the complaints ventured by Starbucks employees. 

Additionally, Starbucks was met with further resistance after seven pro-union employees in Memphis, Tennessee, were allegedly fired for their participation in unionizing efforts. 

Since last December’s union win in Buffalo, more than 60 Starbucks locations in at least 18 states have filed for union elections. 

Evidently, California has made the list of states involved in these efforts, so your neighborhood Starbucks closures are likely not all COVID-related.

“A month ago, I was one of the only shifts because we had 15 partners out because they either tested positive or they had symptoms,” Memphis Starbucks employee Kylie Throckmorton told More Perfect Union. “It was nonstop like, ‘No, you need to work. It doesn’t matter if you were exposed or not.’ I was exposed to ten of those people and I still had to come in.”

Nikki Taylor, a Starbucks employee at the same location added, “I’ve watched my partners struggle to, A, pay their bills after working all day, or B, be stressed out all day after working with skeleton crews. And it hurts me personally because I love those people.” 

Anyone who has worked in the service industry knows that your job is a source of community, just as it is a source of income. What Starbucks employees across the country are displaying now through their unionizing efforts is resilience, courage, and collective support for one another. 

So if your neighborhood Starbucks is closed during this time, try a small business alternative. 

And if it remains open? Tip heavily.

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Lydia Sviatoslavsky

Lydia Sviatoslavsky

Lydia Sviatoslavsky covers culture and curiosities for Bay City News and Broke-Ass Stuart. She publishes artist interviews and experimental writing at You can find her on Instagram at @rot_thought.