Two months after Starbucks workers began a round-the-clock strike near Boston University, baristas have declared victory. But Starbucks said little has changed at the 874 Commonwealth Ave. location.
Eighteen employees from Greater Boston announced in a public letter Wednesday that the company has agreed to meet baristas’ demands and that the cafe will reopen in the near future.
Starbucks said, too, in a statement that they “look forward to serving our customers” again. But the coffeehouse chain claims it has not conceded to employees’ calls to amend scheduling issues and remove a controversial store manager from her position.
“The partners at this location are returning to work under the same conditions at the time that they went on strike” over 60 days ago, the company wrote. “No negotiation [was] conducted with these partners for their return.”
Since July, baristas at the Commonwealth Avenue cafe have alleged that manager Tomi Chorlian discriminated against LGBTQ+ employees and workers of color, made wrongful threats of termination, and slashed hours, putting many at risk of losing benefits like health insurance. Much of the fight also hinged on Starbucks’ minimum availability rule — a mandate that requires part-time employees to say they can work close to full-time hours, even if they are only eventually scheduled for 20 or less. (If baristas refuse, Commonwealth Avenue workers said, their jobs may be in jeopardy.)
Now those concerns have been addressed, at least according to employees.
Baristas said that district manager Phil Mann told them this week that he is actively searching for a replacement for Chorlian, who joined the cafe on an interim basis shortly after workers unionized in June. But Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said Chorlian remains in charge.
Mann did not reply to a request for comment.
In a memo to workers released by Starbucks Sunday, the company also reiterated that the minimum availability rule cannot be unilaterally enforced at locations that unionized before July 11, including Commonwealth Avenue. Kylah Clay, an Allston barista and leader in the union movement, took the note as a positive sign.
“That means our partners who are part-time or college students can finally return to work without being fearful of illegally losing their job,” Clay said.
But Borges refuted both claims. He said the minimum availability rule has not applied to the Commonwealth Avenue location since June, weeks before the strike began, and that Chorlian is staying.
“The letter claims there’s a new store manager. That is not accurate. And that they negotiated a change in the number of hours that they’re required to work — that is also not accurate,” he added.
The dispute is just the latest update in the high-profile strike at Commonwealth Avenue, which attracted the attention of Mayor Michelle Wu and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. As the longest union action in Starbucks history, it required the help of around 200 volunteers who staffed the sidewalk day and night. Workers at five other Massachusetts Starbucks locations also walked out in early August to support Commonwealth Avenue baristas.
“It took a lot of work, which went unappreciated by people who thought we were just being lazy,” said shift manager Nora Rossi. “We got a lot of comments telling us to go back to work or be grateful for what we have. But this — doing this — was important.”
Despite several sporadic strikes nationwide and ongoing claims that Starbucks engages in union-busting, there are now 238 unionized locations total, including dozens in New England.