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Starbucks will close its last stores in Ithaca amid ongoing labor dispute

Starbucks will close its locations on East Seneca Street in downtown Ithaca and South Meadow Street.
Megan Zerez
Starbucks will close its locations on East Seneca Street in downtown Ithaca and South Meadow Street.

Just over a year ago, workers at all three of Ithaca’s Starbucks locations voted to unionize, making it the first city in the country to have all-unionized stores. Now, the coffee giant is closing two of its remaining locations.

This comes amid an ongoing trial at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), over Starbucks’ decision to close its location on College Avenue last summer. Workers said the closure was retaliation for a strikethey organized. A regional director for the labor board found merit in the union’s claims and brought a complaint against the company. A final decision before an administrative law judge is still pending.

But workers said Starbucks told them Friday that the last two stores in the city would be closing on May 26. Union organizer and barista Evan Sunshine said 40 workers will be laid off when the stores close. He was at work when management made the announcement.

“One of my co-workers asked whether he would be able to transfer to the other store in Ithaca,” Sunshine said. “And the district manager said no, that one is closing too, there will be no Starbucks in Ithaca.”

Sunshine said he thinks because a decision hasn’t been made on whether Starbucks’ closure of the first location was legal, the company felt it had the leeway to close the last two stores.

“They knew that they could get away with it,” Sunshine said. “Because the decision hasn't come out yet.”

Sunshine argued the move was Starbucks retaliating over the leaking of documents from the trial to HuffPost. The documents contain emails that show Starbucks officials worrying about bad press related to the strike and discussing the closure of the store.

A spokesperson for Starbucks said that the decision to close the stores did not have to do with union membership, but rather staffing issues and high worker turnover at the locations.

"We continue to open, close, and evolve our stores as we assess, reposition, and strengthen our store portfolio,” said Sara Trilling, executive vice president and president of Starbucks North America. 

The union and Starbucks will negotiate the terms of the layoffs, such as severance packages, in just over a week. Workers plan to rally this Friday to protest the closures.

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