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Cleveland Circle Starbucks workers stage one-day strike over water leak

Employees at the coffee shop walked out over what they claimed were unsafe conditions. The company says it acted quickly to resolve the problem.

Rafi McCoy, a Starbucks employee, sat on a bench with Dunkin' coffee and pastries during the one-day strike at the Starbucks in Cleveland Circle Tuesday.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

More than a dozen workers at a Starbucks in Cleveland Circle went on a one-day strike Tuesday morning, after they claimed that the day prior, management asked employees to remain at work in unsafe conditions.

In a letter sent to two Starbucks managers, employees said workers were told to continue working for “several hours” on Monday while water leaked from the ceiling and light fixtures onto counter tops, espresso machines, and people who were working. They said the “infrastructure issue has presented itself numerous times” over the past few years, and claimed that managers failed to implement a permanent solution, putting employees at risk.

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Workers at Starbucks in Cleveland Circle are on a one-day strike.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“Partners are left with no choice but to work with the risk of ceiling tiles falling and injuring them or accidentally slipping and falling on flooded floors anytime it rains,” they wrote.

Employees at the store recently voted to unionize, one of several organizing efforts underway at area Starbucks.

In an e-mail to the Globe, a spokesperson for the coffee shop chain said that it “moved quickly” to resolve the concerns.

The problem started on Saturday when rain began leaking through the roof into the cafe lobby, prompting the store to close that area to customers and offer grab-and-go service only. When workers arrived to fix the leak Monday morning, they encountered a “drainage issue with the HVAC system,” which caused water to leak onto the espresso bar, according to Starbucks.

Starbucks workers in Cleveland Circle strike

The spokesperson said “other areas of the store were not impacted,” though a video and photos shared with the Globe shows water running onto the floor and splashing off the espresso bar near drinks and bags of food.

A photo of the espresso bar during a water leak at the Starbucks in Cleveland Circle.Greater Boston Starbucks Workers United

Employees said management shut down the espresso bar but told employees to continue making drinks at other stations. Starbucks confirmed that after the leak, “partners were still making iced coffee and cold brew, as those areas were dry,” but were soon sent home.

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Starbucks said water began leaking again from a light on the ceiling at about 8:45 a.m Monday, and a store manager closed the cafe by 9:15 a.m.

According to the employees’ letter, they were left with “conflicting and unclear” guidance on how Starbucks would handle lost wages.

The company said employees who worked less than three hours and were sent home still got paid for a full three hours, as is required under Massachusetts law. The spokesperson said managers verbally explained the company’s catastrophe pay policy to employees before they left.

“Partners were given the opportunity to pick up shifts at nearby stores [Tuesday] while the Cleveland Circle store is closed, and only one partner chose to do so,” the spokesperson said. “As we work to resolve the HVAC issue, partners are able to work at nearby stores to avoid any lost wages.”

Willow Montana, a 29-year-old shift manager at the Cleveland Square Starbucks, said employees held an impromptu meeting Monday afternoon and decided to strike after calls to management went unanswered and they couldn’t determine whether it would be safe to return Tuesday.

“This is a good reminder to all of us that this is why we fought to have a union,” said Montana. “We can legally strike and be protected.”

Alexis Roth, an employee at the Cleveland Circle Starbucks, holds a protest sign over her head.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Employees said they plan to return to work on Wednesday, as long as the water leak is fixed.

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Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.