Workers at unionized New York Starbucks store continue walk out over staffing, safety

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FILE PHOTO: Mobile orders await pick up at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York

By Hilary Russ

NEW YORK – Baristas at a Starbucks Corp location in Buffalo, New York, walked off the job for a second day on Thursday in protest of what they say are unsafe working conditions amid a new surge in COVID-19 cases.

Workers left their positions on Wednesday at the Elmwood Avenue location – the only unionized corporate-owned Starbucks store in the United States – and say they will not return until they feel safe.

A third of employees there are out because of COVID-19, said barista Casey Moore, one of the union organizers in Buffalo.

“The store is drastically understaffed, leaving the remaining partners exhausted and overworked,” she said.

Employees who can work have not been given N95 masks and “Starbucks also made it clear that partners are still required to serve unmasked customers, despite state-wide mask mandates,” she said.

Company spokesman Reggie Borges said that as of Monday, all 20 Buffalo-area stores had closed seating areas and switched to take-out only, and some had reduced hours of operation, to address a local spike in COVID-19 cases and staff shortages.

“Throughout the pandemic we have met and exceeded all CDC and expert guidelines for safety, and we’ve supported partners with vaccine pay, sick days and isolation-pay,” Borges said.

Employees at the store voted on Dec. 9 to join the Workers United union. The National Labor Relations Board certified the election results a week later.

Now, Starbucks employees at individual stores in six more cities are seeking elections to vote on whether to unionize.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Aurora Ellis)