Starbucks Worker Claims Safety Measures Were Thrown Away After Union Effort

An employee at a Starbucks in Clarksville, Indiana, has alleged that safety measures are being reduced less than two weeks after the location's workers filed to unionize.

The employee, Mila Wade, tweeted a photo Saturday of the floor at her particular place of work. It showed a bare floor without any safety surface mats or floor mats.

"An hour or two after we filed, all of the stress mats in the store were thrown in the dumpster," she said in a tweet that has approximately 32,500 likes. "We're on our feet the entire time. It's miserable without the rubber stress mats, and very slippery."

Wade, who went on to say that employees have not received any notice regarding their filing, added that a coworker had provided photos of the floor mats in a dumpster. Wren said employees were later told by management that the mats were discarded due to floors constantly being "too wet," requiring dry mopping before they can be reinstalled.

"Funny how this is the first time any of us are being told this...Imagine retaliating against your workers unionizing by putting their health and safety at risk," Wren tweeted. "Screw our feet and backs I guess."

Wade, 32, has been a barista in Clarksville for over a year. She told Newsweek that around the same time Starbucks workers in Buffalo unionized, she contacted Starbucks Workers United (SBU). It was a "slow, steady process" and union support hovered around 50 percent due to high turnover rates at the location, she said.

Eventually, new managerial support provided a strong majority.

"The first day new management came in, we were told that they were "our dictator, not our manager" and that we were "all replaceable," Wade alleged. "Management made it clear that the goal was to either fire or get rid of all the workers at our store and replace them with workers from their previous store."

Aside from her not being promoted to shift supervisor after allegedly being promised by higher-ups, Wade said that "the biggest push came from one of our co-workers, a shift supervisor, being targeted and terminated from the company."

"[The former employee] was the longest-serving partner in the store [3.5 years], had never had a single infraction, and was the glue that held the place together—and a friend to us all," Wade said.

"When everyone saw that the benefits they were afraid of losing through unionizing could literally be taken away without warning if management had a mind to, that is what drove the entire store to want to unionize."

Starbucks Union
A Starbucks is seen in the background as people gather at Westlake Park during the "Fight Starbucks' Union Busting" rally and march in Seattle, Washington, on April 23, 2022. Hundreds of petitions have been filed at Starbucks locations attempting to unionize. JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

Aaron Crouse, a shift manager at the same location, told WFYI Indianapolis that the employees' decision to unionize was nearly unanimous. A letter sent to the company outlined "unprecedented mistreatment and a callous disregard for labor law."

Crouse said that aside from wanting better pay and protections—such as additional wages for employees who work at understaffed locations—he recalled one former coworker being fired unexpectedly. It affected that individual's ability to pay for a college education.

"It's something that just really struck a nerve and hit close to home," Crouse said. "I wanted to do my part to make sure it didn't happen to anybody else."

A Starbucks spokesperson told Newsweek that the floor mats at the Clarksville location were discarded "after a facilities assessment showed them to be in poor condition."

"To ensure a safe and comfortable work environment for our partners, replacement mats have been brought in from nearby stores as a temporary measure," the spokesperson said. "The local team has also ordered new mats as permanent replacements."

Newsweek contacted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about whether the removal of floor mats in this instance poses employee risks pursuant to 1910.22, which stipulates general requirements of surface conditions at places of employment.

An OSHA spokesperson told Newsweek that Indiana operates an OSHA-approved state plan that covers "most private sector workers and all state and local government workers."

Newsweek reached out to the Indiana Department of Labor for comment.

The original tweet was also published on Reddit's "anti-work" forum, where it has been upvoted approximately 50,000 times.

"They do realize that this would make them want to unionize even more, right?" one Reddit user wrote. "It would end up being the union that would bring the mats back and tell off management for taking them in the first place."

Unionization Efforts at Starbucks Nationwide

NPR reported in May that since three Starbucks stores in and around Buffalo, New York, filed union election petitions with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in August 2021, nearly 250 other Starbucks stores have filed with the NLRB–a surge of 57 percent in the first half of the 2022 fiscal year, and the highest union election petitions filed since 2015.

Of the excess petitions being filed, NPR added that Starbucks-specific petitions accounted for almost one-fourth of all petitions since January.

One upstate New York Starbucks is under fire for closing one of its stores in "retaliation" for unionization efforts.

Deseret News reported that last week employees at a Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, found out they joined the list of over 100 Starbucks locations across the U.S. being unionized.

An NLRB spokesperson told Newsweek that the board has received 288 Starbucks-related union petitions across 35 states. Of a total of 176 counts held nationwide, 143 voted to unionize.

Also, 99 petitions have been certified so far and in such cases "the employer must begin bargaining in good faith with the union." That includes employers' legal duty "to bargain in good faith with their employees' representative and to sign any collective bargaining agreement that has been reached."

Starbucks Brass Say Unions Aren't the Way to Go

Starbucks has tried to combat the trend, such as in a lengthy "We are one Starbucks" statement and explanation that discusses how employees in multiple sectors have developed a more acute interest in unionization.

"We know that recently we haven't lived up to what you should expect from Starbucks," the company wrote. "There were external problems like the challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic, but also problems we created ourselves like not focusing enough on staffing, security, and operations. We believe that you deserve better and that we have a responsibility to do right by you."

Aside from mentioning "impropriety" in the manner votes were counted in Buffalo and specifically mentioning the NLRB and "integrity," the company has also targeted certain entities—such as Workers United—for allegedly dubious intent in helping employees unionize on a national scale.

"Unions are a business—they are not a cause, a movement or group of 'partners for partners,'" the company said. "They are a business that makes money via member dues."

The company said its "partners," or employees, should vote "no" to unionization because it claims to better understand the changes workers request and the solutions that "support physical, financial and mental health, together."

On June 6, Starbucks shared an update on $1 billion in employee investments that were originally announced in May. Some of those investments have involved the exploration of coffee made by and for employees; changing strict dress codes; assessing interest in minimum hours; and wages and raises, etc.

SBU has a different take, however, and says employees have been attempting to deliver results for years, saying that unions "bring out the best in all of us."

"Starbucks is the leader in the coffee industry, and one of the most successful companies in the world," SBU says on their website. "We want to share in that success, and we want to have a voice in determining what that looks like for us. We think there is a disconnect between corporate and us. The company says that partners come first, but all too often puts large shareholders above all else."

Wade is confident in the petition being successful.

"Not only do we have the entire store on our side, but the degree to which our story has spread has caused many outside the store to support us and cheer us on," she said. "I have no doubt that any new people coming in will be more than willing to vote 'yes,' as has already been the case with all the ones we've had so far."

Other recent Starbucks news includes baristas who pushed back against social media claims that the coffee company was scamming customers with cup sizes, and the company announced a plan to offer coverage for travel costs for employees seeking abortions out of state.

Newsweek reached out to SBU for comment.

Update 6/14/22, 10:11 a.m. ET: This story has been updated with more information and comment from Mila Wade.