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Photo: Eleonore Sens/AFP via Getty Images.
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Starbucks fires union organizer at first unionized shop in Buffalo

Locations across the U.S. have also since begun unionizing, including a number in Philadelphia.

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On Sunday, Feb. 20, a Starbucks employee who helped lead the union drive at the chain’s first unionized store in the country was reportedly fired.

“Today, Cassie Fleischer was fired — on the same day the story profiling her organizing contributions ran in the print Washington Post,” SBWorkersUnited, an account representing Starbucks employees working to unionize, wrote on Twitter.

Fleischer worked at the Elmwood Avenue location in Buffalo, New York, which became the first of the coffee giant’s 9,000 stores to unionize after a December 2021 vote. 

In a letter to Starbucks employees after the Elmwood Avenue store voted to unionize, Starbucks Executive Vice President Rossann Williams made the company’s stance clear. 

"From the beginning, we've been clear in our belief that we do not want a union between us as partners, and that conviction has not changed. However, we have also said that we respect the legal process. This means we will bargain in good faith with the union that represents partners in the one Buffalo store that voted in favor of union representation," she said.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Fleischer explained she was terminated by the company after she reduced her available working hours upon finding another job. 

“I am no longer being scheduled nor am I allowed to pick up any shifts, and as of today I am effectively terminated from the company, at the first unionized corporate location in the nation,” she wrote. 

She said she loved the job and her co-workers, but needed to secure an additional job to provide her with the hours she needs per week to “maintain a life in Buffalo.” 

Starbucks "has always been a company that prides itself in its flexibility, and as such its allowance to be a fun second job to supplement a person's full time job," Fleischer added.

She also said that what happened to her further proves the need for a union to represent workers. 

“As a leader in the union’s organizing and negotiations committees, and having helped organize the strike over COVID-19 safety, I know something has changed. This is not the company I signed on to in 2017,” Fleischer wrote. 

She said Starbucks is making a mistake, and that she plans to continue supporting her partners. 

According to More Perfect Union, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on labor rights, several leaders of the unionizing effort in Buffalo were recently warned they would be fired soon due to policy shifts from Starbucks’ management. 

Sources said that several workers in Buffalo locations, including the Elmwood Avenue store, were told that any employee working less than 20 hours a week could be fired. 

Former Starbucks store managers told More Perfect Union that there haven’t been uniform minimum hours-worked policies across the company. 

But telling workers or applicants that their availability “does not fit the needs of the business,” is being used as a way to force people to quit or not apply at all. 

Workers at the Elmwood location walked out and protested for several days in January over lack of safety precautions during the height of the Omicron variant surge, which tore through the store’s staff. 

The leaders there have become the face of a union movement that has spread to 100 stores in 26 states as of Friday, Feb. 18. 

Last week, Starbucks fired seven workers in its unionizing location in Memphis, Tennessee, wiping out the entire organizing committee. The company is actively flooding unionizing locations with new employees, in efforts to dilute pro-union votes in upcoming National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections.

“Unacceptable. Starbucks can't claim to be a good employer as it fires workers who stand up for a voice,” Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union, wrote on Twitter.

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