New York Daily News
City baristas set to file work-law complaints vs. coffee giant
Dozens of fed-up Starbucks baristas trying to unionize the coffee company in the city promise to file complaints Tuesday for violations of city law governing consistent schedules for workers.
It will be the first collaboration between their fledgling union, Starbucks Workers United, and 32BJ SEIU, the largest service workers union in the country. The newer organization has had mixed results in trying to unionize the giant coffee corporation to date.
Of the 15,000-plus Starbucks cafes in the U.S., only a few locations have voted for unionization. The company’s famously anti-union CEO Howard Schultz came out of retirement in 2022 after workers started to organize. He has caught the attention of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lambasted him in a January letter and demanded that he “immediately halt [his] aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign.”
Complaints from 27 baristas at 23 Starbucks in four of the five boroughs say they have grounds for complaints to the city Consumer and Worker Protection Department for Fair Workweek Law violations, according to a 32BJ spokeswoman.
Those include not keeping a consistent schedule for workers, not paying premium rates for opening and closing shifts and not giving first dibs on shifts to workers with seniority. The Big Apple has 275 Starbucks locations, the most of any city in the country.
“Multinational corporations like Starbucks have no excuse for not following the law. We urge the agency to seek full compliance from Starbucks and all other fastfood companies doing business in our city,” 32BJ President Manny Pastreich wrote to the worker protection agency. He said that the union is looking at possible violations at three additional locations.
Barista Lee Lambert, 22, said his hours have been filtered down to a drip at the William St. location in the Financial District — from 20 to 25 a week to as little as 14 weekly hours. “All labor costs have been cut dramatically,” said Lambert, a recent graduate of Pace University, “even as we’re heading back into the busier season. It’s been a severe financial burden for all of us.”
Under the workweek law, a company cannot reduce an employee’s hours by 15% or more without just cause or a “legitimate business reason.”
As leftist Vermont firebrand Sanders pointed out in his letter, Seattle-based Starbucks made $3.3 billion in profit during the first nine months of 2022.
Lambert, who said that he likes the work and enjoys interacting with the public, has also had to deal with an erratic work schedule which has made it difficult to plan visits to his family in Philadelphia.
“The specific shifts that I tend to get placed on or that any of our partners get placed on tend to vary wildly from week to week,” he said. “It becomes difficult to plan around working because I never know when I’m going to be at work.”
The labor law requires that employers pay higher rates for shifts that involve opening and closing the shops for the day, but Lambert said he always gets paid the same amount.
“I worked several ‘clopenings,’ ” he said, using the slang term for opening and closing. “For five weeks in a row I was opening pretty regularly, and I never got paid a premium for that.”
Still another time, Lambert was scheduled to work on a day that he told the manager he had a doctor’s appointment. He was permitted not to work, but the shift went uncovered.
This is not the first time that Starbucks has been accused of playing around with worker hours.
In September, the worker protection agency filed a complaint against the company for violating the Fair Workweek Law when it fired union organizer Austin Locke after employees voted to join the union at an Astoria, Queens, location.
A Starbucks spokesman said the company tries to comply with city regulations on worker hours.
“We make every effort and have invested significant resources to ensure partner scheduling practices are in alignment with New York City’s Fair Workweek Law,” spokesman Andrew Trull said.
In August, the city settled with Chipotle for $20 million when 13,000 workers claimed violations of workweek and sick-leave laws.
Lambert said he knows that there are other opportunities, but he enjoys the job and doesn’t think he should have to leave because of scheduling difficulties.
“I like working at Starbucks. I like the people that I work with. I like making the drinks. I like talking to people,” he said. “But I cannot do that job if I’m not being scheduled appropriately, if I’m not being paid appropriately.
“So I don’t want to have to get a different job and I shouldn’t have to. So that’s part of why we’re fighting.”