A Ditmars Boulevard Starbucks employee was fired just a week after the store voted in favor of unionizing, but the corporation denies this was a form of retaliation.
Austin Locke, a Starbucks employee for almost six years, was fired July 5, due to what the company says were “issues of integrity in connection with making a false claim of workplace violence.”
On June 8, Locke arrived to work when he initially attempted to fill out the mandatory COVID symptom check-in before starting his duties for the day.
However, due to shift supervisors occupying the back space of the shop, Locke claimed he was unable to fill out the COVID check-in. As Locke tried to enter the back room to do the check-in, he alleged a shift supervisor put his hands on him to keep him out of the room.
Locke went on to file a report. But upon reviewing evidence, Starbucks determined there was no inappropriate incident and the supervisor didn’t in fact put their hands on Locke as he had claimed. Starbucks said they reviewed security footage and also documented statements from the bystanders in the room.
Faith Bianchi, another employee at the Ditmars Boulevard store, said that she heard the shift supervisor admit to making physical contact with Locke and apologize for it.
“I heard the apology but did not see it happen,” Bianchi said. “I asked the supervisor if he had made physical contact, and he said yes. I don’t believe he meant any harm by it, nor was Austin hurt.”
For the supposed “false report” and Locke’s failure to comply with COVID safety protocols, he was terminated just weeks later.
“We just won the election on Thursday, and the next Tuesday, they served me these papers,” Locke said.
Locke said that he organized the union effort at the Ditmars Boulevard location, and thinks that’s why the leadership at the store would be motivated to fire him.
“I’m one of the only people there coordinating,” Locke said. “This was spurred by my actions. I think this is a clear incident of retaliation for a successful union effort at a Starbucks location. Starbucks has so many instances of illegal firings and harassment for workers who are unionizing and I think this is just another case of that.”
Starbucks stores across the U.S started unionizing in 2021, with a Buffalo location kicking off the effort. Since that first vote to unionize, now over 100 stores nationwide have joined Workers United.
Starbucks is no stranger to retaliation claims; the U.S. labor board sued Starbucks to bring back employees who were let go after supporting the union efforts.
Starbucks maintains that there was no physical encounter and that any claims of retaliation are patently false.
My name is Austin and I was illegally fired by Starbucks in retaliation for our store’s union win. On July 22nd we will have a rally around 6pm Starbucks 31st Street/Ditmars, come on out and get me reinstated! @SBWorkersUnited @rwu_str @nycDSA pic.twitter.com/1EuAMe7qBt
— Ditmars Blvd SBWU (@DitmarsSBWU) July 11, 2022
Locke started working at the Ditmars Boulevard location three years ago and most enjoyed the people he worked with and the customers he interacted with daily.
“I loved the customers and the regulars, everybody that I worked with are really nice people,” Locke said. “I see this as a bump in the road; I don’t plan on stopping my union efforts at Starbucks. I’m committed to organizing the working class.”