New York City sues Starbucks on claims the company illegally fired a Queens barista for union organizing
- New York City is suing Starbucks for allegedly firing an employee and union organizer in Queens.
- The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection is seeking reinstatement, civil penalties, restitution, and back pay for the staffer.
New York City filed a lawsuit against Starbucks on Friday, alleging the coffee chain wrongfully terminated an employee and union organizer.
The New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) claims Starbucks violated just cause protections when it fired longtime barista Austin Locke from a Queens store on July 5, just under a month after the location voted to join a union. As part of the suit, DCWP is advocating for Locke's reinstatement, as well as seeking civil penalties, restitution, and back pay.
According to the lawsuit, Locke was told that he was fired for not filling out a COVID-19 questionnaire administered by the company, as well as falsely reporting a supervisor for making unwanted physical contact with him. The incidents took place shortly after the store's union vote, Reuters reported.
In a statement on Friday, DCWP Commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga said the organization "stands ready to fight for the dignity and respect that all workers deserve from their employers."
"As we approach Labor Day, it's important to remember that workers are the backbone of our city and deserve the right to organize to promote safer and fairer work practices," Mayuga said.
The lawsuit comes amid a growing unionization effort among Starbucks employees around the nation, following the formation of the company's first union at an upstate New York store in December 2021.
The company has since faced multiple allegations of unlawful termination connected to union efforts. In June, the National Labor Relations Board accused Starbucks of using "illegal tactics" including allegedly firing several union activists in an attempt to halt the movement.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has also openly spoken against unionization efforts several times, including saying the company was "being assaulted by the threat of unionization," during his first townhall as reinstated interim chief executive in April.
In a statement, Locke urged Starbucks to "rehire all illegally fired workers and put an end to their illegal union-busting campaign."
"It's been a year since the campaign with Starbucks Workers United began at a Starbucks in Buffalo, NY," Locke said. "There are now 235 unionized Starbucks around the country. Starbucks continues to wrongfully fire pro-union workers nationwide in retaliation for union organizing."
A Starbucks spokesperson told Insider in a statement it does not comment on pending litigation, but that the company does "intend to defend against the alleged violations of the New York City Just Cause Law."
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