City sues Starbucks over wrongful termination of union organizer at Ditmars Boulevard location

Astoria Boulevard workers celebrate vote to unionize in June. (Photo via Twitter)

Ahead of the Labor Day weekend, the city filed a lawsuit against Starbucks seeking the reinstatement of a wrongfully terminated employee.

The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) announced it had filed a case at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) against the Starbucks Corporation for violating the city’s “just cause” protections against wrongful termination under the Fair Work Law.

DCWP’s investigation determined that Starbucks illegally fired longtime barista and union organizer Austin Locke on July 5, less than a month after employees at the Astoria Starbucks where he worked voted to join a union. DCWP is seeking his reinstatement, civil penalties, as well as restitution and back pay required under the law, which continues to accrue until Locke returns to work.

The city filed a lawsuit against Starbucks for firing barista and union organizer Austin Locke in July after workers at the Ditmars Boulevard location voted to join a union. (Courtesy of Luigi Morris)

“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,” DCWP Commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga said. “Any violation of the city’s Fair Workweek Law is unacceptable. DCWP stands ready to fight for the dignity and respect that all workers deserve from their employers. To all New York City fast food workers, if you believe you’ve been illegally fired from your workplace, do not hesitate to contact us.”

On July 17, DCWP received a complaint from Locke alleging that Starbucks had illegally fired him, which DCWP investigated. The records and information Starbucks provided during the investigation did not refute or mitigate DCWP’s determination that Starbucks illegally fired Locke.

“It’s been a year since the campaign with Starbucks Workers United began at the Starbucks in Buffalo, NY. There are now 235 unionized Starbuck around the country,” Locke said. “Starbucks continues to wrongfully fire pro-union workers nationwide in retaliation for union organizing. Starbucks Workers United demands Starbucks rehire all illegally fired workers and put an end to their illegal union-busting campaign. We also demand that Starbucks come to the bargaining table and negotiate a contract with Starbucks Workers United. No contract, no coffee.”

A Starbucks spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation and that the company will defend itself against claims it has violated the “just cause” law.

Under the city’s Fair Workweek Law, it is illegal for fast food employers to fire or lay off workers who have completed a probation period of 30 days or reduce their hours by more than 15% without just cause or a legitimate economic reason. Since it went into effect in November 2017, DCWP received more than 440 complaints about Fair Workweek discrepancies; closed more than 220 investigations; and obtained resolutions requiring nearly $24.4 million in combined fines and restitution for more than 17,150 workers.

“Protecting workers’ rights to organize and unionize is critical, and employers who try to undermine and violate those rights must be held accountable,” Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said. “The Council passed Just Cause protections to prevent unfair practices like this. Starbucks’ actions were not just wrong but illegal, and I applaud the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection for conducting this investigation and taking legal action. As a city, we must continue to safeguard the rights of workers to ensure they have the respect, dignity and conditions they deserve.”

More from Around New York