'Skeleton crews:' Union Starbucks workers say hours slashed and allege labor law violations
Managers at the Starbucks on Loop 410 and Vance Jackson stood up and left the store when workers attempted to deliver a demand letter about working conditions and alleged labor violations on Thursday morning in a so-called “march on the boss.”
“Our managers decided to cut us off and walk out of the building today rather than hear our demands,” said Quinn Craig, a shift supervisor and lead organizer at the store.
The letter called on management to “cease and desist threatening and intimidating” workers exercising their rights, return personal items like cups and boards that had been taken, restore labor hours and conditions to pre-union levels, and sign the Starbucks Workers United Fair Election Principals.
Gaz Garcia, another worker who signed onto the demand letter, said managers’ decision to walk out spoke volumes about their priorities.
“They want to stay ignorant of any actual human feelings that their employees are having, and the turmoil it takes on us as people, and to just kind of separate it from them because it makes it easier for them to treat us the way they’ve been treating us,” he said.
One of the store’s managers, Alana Taiaroa, threatened to discipline or fire workers for writing on whiteboards around the store after they began writing pro-union messages, according to a press release from Starbucks Workers United.
“This board has previously held doodles and messages that were not work-related, but now that it has union-related messages, [the managers are] erasing them,” Craig said.
Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull said store managers were “level-set[ting] about expectations and appropriate use for operational boards located back-of-house” and said the boards were only for work-related purposes.
Trull did not address claims that the boards had regularly been used for non-work purposes without issue in the past.
“They are trying to threaten and intimidate us out of writing kind notes to each other and empowering notes to each other on our whiteboards,” Craig said.
Trull emphasized that retaliation for protected labor activity was unacceptable at Starbucks.
“To be clear: We respect the rights of all partners to make their own decisions about union representation and to engage in lawful union activities without fear of reprisal or retaliation,” he said.
Administrative law judges have ruled against Starbucks dozens of times for hundreds of alleged labor law violations, including for disciplinary action and firings against union workers, though Starbucks continues to appeal and no final rulings have been made.
Trull also addressed the managers’ decision to leave the store.
“Managers present on-site for a community event today informed a partner that they were not the appropriate company representative to receive their demands and that they should work through their union representative to convey and discuss matters raised,” Trull said in the statement. “Managers then disengaged with the partner.”
Starbucks has said managers do not represent the company and only specifically designated corporate staff and attorneys are permitted to bargain with workers.
Another worker who signed on to the demand letter, Angel Caro, said cuts to labor at the store had been painful.
“I, at some point during the night, had slipped and I fell,” she said. “And it was just unsafe conditions. I was dropping things all over the bar, trying to get to customers, trying to run [and] get these drinks done, trying to make backups with whatever I could. It was just very unsafe. We close at 7 and we didn’t get out until almost [9:30] that night, just Quinn and I.”
Miranda Cuellar, a supervisor at the store, told managers that it was becoming increasingly challenging to work at the company because of staffing levels, according to a press release from Starbucks Workers United.
“As the months went on, our hours got cut, skeleton crews became the norm, and going home without an ache in your bones was a luxury,” Cuellar said.
Craig said labor had been slashed by nearly 30% at their store since they first filed their petition to unionize. He used various daily coverage reports from his store since November 2022 to argue that “productivity” — a metric calculated by dividing the total number of customers on a given day by the total coverage hours — had increased substantially through May.
Trull countered, referencing a statement from the company’s CEO Laxman Narasimhan on May 2.
“We have been able to increase the average hours per Barista per week by 4% year-over-year, a metric we know is one of many meaningful inputs in achieving the desired compensation of our partners,” Narasimhan said in his remarks.
Craig and others acknowledge that cuts to hours affect union and non-union stores alike. But Craig said that doesn’t mean it’s not an attack against the union effort.
“If I had to take a guess, my belief is that Starbucks is intentionally overworking and stressing out their employees so that they don’t have as much energy and mental fortitude to undertake organizing,” he said.
Starbucks has consistently denied engaging in union-busting activity of any kind.
Craig told his coworkers that he expected to be fired for leading Thursday’s worker action.
“The fact that our district manager singled me out as the person who started speaking to all of our customers and told me that I was disrupting the workplace, I fully expect that Starbucks is going to try to use that line as reasoning to separate me from the company,” he said. “I’ve been planned and prepared for it for a while.”
Starbucks has been accused of firing tens of workers for protected labor activity, including at least two in San Antonio. Federal courts have filed injunctions against the company ordering reinstatement and backpay for at least a dozen workers nationwide.
Craig said people who want to support unionized San Antonio Starbucks workers can do so by donating to their relief fund.