Employees at a Starbucks cafe near Boston University went on strike Monday morning in an effort to eliminate workplace issues they say intensified after their vote to unionize in June.
Starbucks baristas at 874 Commonwealth Ave. allege management inadequately and inconsistently schedules employees, unilaterally imposes availability requirements, and exhibits behavior “inconsistent with Starbucks’ mission and values,” as well as federal labor laws.
The brunt of the blame, they wrote in a letter, lies on interim manager Tomi Chorlian, who began working at the store immediately after the union vote. (The Commonwealth Avenue location is one of dozens in Massachusetts that have taken steps to unionize since last December, when two Boston locations were inspired by Buffalo baristas to organize.)
Now, its employees allege Chorlian has made wrongful threats of discipline or termination and aggressively cut hours, even while hiring new baristas. Kylah Clay, a barista at a nearby Allston cafe and leader in the local movement, added Chorlian has been “racist and homophobic” — an allegation repeated in the public letter.
Baristas now demand she be terminated from the company, or be promptly removed from the cafe and undergo further training and supervision, the letter read. Baristas also asked that management review the labor needs at the location monthly to ensure adequate staffing.
They intend to picket outside and halt deliveries until Tuesday morning, by which time employees hope to reach an agreement with management.
A Starbucks spokesman said the company was aware of the strike. “Starbucks values each of our partners and we respect their legal rights to engage in organizing activity or protest,” a statement read. “We are grateful for each partner who did come into work today, and we are doing our best to listen to the concerns of all our partners.”
Chorlian — who according to LinkedIn has been a Starbucks store manager since 2019 — did not respond to direct messages.
Barista Taylor Dickerson said in a statement the near-constant understaffing and underscheduling feel “like a direct punishment for unionizing.”
She worked thirty hours and or more each week, until Chorlian cut hours “virtually in half” come June — all that “despite my open availability, consistency, and hard work.”
Shift manager Nora Rossi added that employees must “frequently have to skip breaks to get things done on time and even then, we get out of our shifts late.”
Altogether, the issues, Dickerson said, “make it difficult to pay bills” and sorely hurt “our sales, cleanliness, and morale.”
After they unionized, workers were met with a new temporary manager who has since enforced new policies, treated workers with hostility and disrespect, and denied adequate labor hours thereby forcing partners to skip breaks. pic.twitter.com/O3F75egysC— Boston Starbucks Workers United (@BostonSBWU) July 18, 2022
The strike marks the latest local dispute between Starbucks employees and the company. Clay said employees at 1304 Commonwealth Ave. faced similar issues in early June, when baristas sent a long letter to Starbucks demanding their store manager’s termination. And Cleveland Circle workers staged a one-day strike in late May over a water leak baristas said created unsafe work conditions, though the company believes it acted quickly to resolve the problem.
Since unionization efforts cropped up last year, Boston Starbucks employees have also allegedly faced an antiunion campaign, earmarked by significant scheduling changes, increased disciplinary actions, and mandatory “listening sessions,” the Globe previously reported.
Recently, Starbucks closed at least five stores in Seattle and Los Angeles, citing crime and employee safety concerns. But some unionized employees allege the closures are part of a coordinated effort to strip workers of their rights, as they are often shifted to neighboring nonunion cafes.