BUFFALO, N.Y. — Employees of a Starbucks store in upstate New York who voted to unionize last month walked off the job Wednesday, saying they lacked the staff and resources to work safely amid surging COVID-19 cases.
Six employees who had been scheduled to work formed a picket line outside the Buffalo store, leading Starbucks to close it for the day, the company said. Three other employees had remained inside.
“Pressure to go to work is being put on many of us, when some of us already have other health issues. The company has again shown that they continue to put profits above people,” Starbucks Workers United said in a statement.
All of the Buffalo-area stores have been operating as “grab-and-go” locations since Monday, Starbucks said. More than 15,000 people have tested positive in Erie County over the past week, the highest seven-day total to date.
Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said the company has met and exceeded CDC and expert guidelines and offered vaccine and isolation pay.
“Over and above that, all leaders are empowered to make whatever changes make sense for their neighborhood, which includes shortening store hours or moving to 100% takeout only, which is the case in Buffalo,” he said.
The employees said they will return to work when they feel the store is fully staffed and safe, possibly on Monday. About a third of the staff is out because of illness or exposure, the union said.
Beyond Buffalo, Starbucks has recently seen union drives in Seattle, Boston and Mesa, Arizona. The Buffalo employees were the first workers at a corporate-owned Starbucks to unionize in the United States in recent years.
This story was updated on January 21, 2022, to correct Starbucks’ union history. The United Food and Commercial Workers union represented workers at six stores in the Seattle area for several years in the 1980s. The Buffalo location was not the first company-owned store to unionize in Starbucks history.