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Starbucks workers in Phoenix speak out after company fires union organizers

Starbucks workers in Phoenix speak out after company fires union organizers

By Kaitlyn Kennedy

Phoenix, Arizona – “A bit expected but also sudden,” is how labor organizer Alyssa Sanchez described her firing from Starbucks. “It was one of those situations where you hope for the best but expect the worst,” she told TAG24.

Laila Dalton (l.) and Alyssa Sanchez (r.) were both fired from Starbucks after they began efforts to unionize their Phoenix store. © Collage: Screenshot/Twitter/lailaddaltonn & Alyssa Sanchez

Even after being fired by the company, Sanchez still overflows with passion for the Starbucks community.

“I love Starbucks. It was my first real job,” she said with a smile.

She previously worked in Rochester, New York, before moving to Phoenix, Arizona last October.

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As a full-time student and flight school attendee with regular medical appointments, Sanchez said schedule flexibility was a big part of why she initially chose the job.

But it was exactly this flexibility that was taken away as soon as she and her colleagues decided to try to unionize the Scottsdale and Mayo store.

Sanchez said the store manager began delaying approval of her scheduling requests and asking her to work on days she had already logged her unavailability.

“She said if I didn’t show up for those shifts, she’d give me grades. You know, if you get three, you get fired,” Sanchez recalled. She was also told that her colleagues were not allowed to replace her.

Sanchez’s manager eventually told him that his hours of availability did “not meet the needs of the store”. When Sanchez asked if they could work together to find a solution, his manager replied: “I don’t know, I guess it just won’t work.”

“It was only after we started to grow the union and created it that she had a problem with my schedule,” she noted.

Origins of the union campaign

Ballots for the union elections have already been mailed to Starbucks workers at the Scottsdale and Mayo store.

Ballots for the union elections have already been mailed to Starbucks workers at the Scottsdale and Mayo store. © Alyssa Sanchez

The seeds of the Scottsdale and Mayo labor campaign were sown in December.

Another member of the local organizing committee, Bill Whitmire, was the first to broach the idea.

Whitmire joined the business during the Covid-19 pandemic as a barista before becoming a shift manager. He was first drawn to the flexibility and benefits of the schedules as well as the company’s stated values ​​of inclusiveness.

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But when it came to putting those values ​​into action, Starbucks left a lot to be desired.

In addition to training and staffing issues, Whitmire said the company failed to account for his hearing impairment, routinely placing him and other workers in similar conditions in difficult situations without fully equipped equipment. functional or simple procedures for accessing assistance. “It was very difficult for me to succeed,” he lamented.

A community organizer at heart, Whitmire was inspired by the organizing efforts launched by fellow Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York. He contacted organizers in Buffalo before speaking with co-worker Laila Dalton, who was frustrated with staffing issues at the store.

“Finally one night I just said, ‘Well, there’s a solution, but it’s going to take a lot of work and Starbucks is going to sue us. Are you ready ? She said, “I’m ready. Tell me what it is,” Whitmire recalled.

After agreeing to continue organizing, they reached out to other colleagues they thought would be receptive, including Sanchez, and their organizing committee was born.

They made public their intention to unionize at the end of January. Soon after, the reprisals began.

Target union organizers

Laila Dalton (right) was fired the same day ballots were sent out for her store.

Laila Dalton (right) was fired the same day ballots were sent out for her store. © Collage: Screenshots/Twitter/whitephoenix

The members of the organizing committee are convinced that it is not by chance that they were selected to be terminated.

Sanchez believes she was singled out because of her “close bonds” with the other baristas at the store.

She said she and Dalton were “very active” in reaching out to co-workers to discuss working conditions and the possibility of unionizing.

Whitmire agreed, describing Sanchez and Dalton as “powerful women who will stand up for themselves” and are “much appreciated” in the store.

After Starbucks fired Sanchez, they harassed and bullied Dalton, ultimately firing her earlier this week.

The National Labor Relations Council has already filed a formal complaint on the company’s treatment of the two women.

Fight for reintegration

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Community members rally to support baristas at Starbucks in Phoenix in March. © Screenshot/Twitter/whitephoenix

Sanchez and Dalton are now fighting to be reinstated at Starbucks. By losing their jobs, both also lost benefits that allowed them to continue their education at Arizona State University.

Because she lost these benefits, Sanchez had to stop taking college classes for the time being. She also had to keep paying off her student loans for flight school, which cost about $100,000 in total.

“Not having an income to pay for this every month is very stressful,” she explained.

Seeing the two women lose their jobs was also not easy for the colleagues. “It really hurts to see your friend get hurt like that. When it happens in the moment, it’s that feeling of helplessness, like there’s nothing you can do to help him while he’s being abused and harassed. “, described Whitmire.

He said he was trying to channel his pain and anger into ways he could support his colleagues, including creating a GoFundMe page so Dalton could continue his education.

“Even though she may have felt lonely, I wanted to let her know that there were a lot of people behind her,” he said. In addition to her “family” of supportive colleagues, the Service Employees International Union has hundreds of thousands of supportive members, he reminded her on particularly difficult days.

That same sense of community is why Sanchez wants to return to work at the store: “I’ve never seen such a great group of workers in my life as when I worked at Starbucks. Even all the customers are great. I I had this excitement of going to work, which not many people can do.”

Breaking unions is a losing game

Organizers and Starbucks allies protest at the Scottsdale and Mayo store, demanding that Sanchez and Dalton be reinstated.

Organizers and Starbucks allies protest at the Scottsdale and Mayo store, demanding that Sanchez and Dalton be reinstated. © Alyssa Sanchez

The members of the organizing committee are convinced that the dismissal of Sanchez and Dalton will not stop their union campaign.

In fact, Sanchez said the layoffs only clarified the case for unionization: “When I was fired, a lot of people were asking questions because it was something that was kept very quiet. Now that Laila is fired, everyone is going full steam ahead, saying, ‘This is not right. We need to make a change.'”

“It doesn’t scare people off. Our partners are too smart for that,” agreed Whitmire.

Workers and community members gathered outside the store on Wednesday to demand the reinstatement of Sanchez and Dalton. During the rally, managers inside the store called 911 and seven patrol cars arrived at the scene. Whitmire said the protesters did no harm to the store, as the managers allegedly claimed.

The organizers remain unfazed in their fight for justice. Dalton even hinted on Twitter that another rally is planned for next week. In the meantime, organizers are asking the community to continue to show their support by showing up in person or amplifying their message on social media.

Despite all the difficulties caused by Starbucks’ union-busting tactics, Sanchez described the experience of joining the movement as “very rewarding.” Not only are she and her fellow organizers trying to help their colleagues at their own store, but they also stand in solidarity with Starbucks workers across the country and hope to serve as an inspiration to all workers fighting for greater representation.

Whitmire echoed those sentiments, “We love Starbucks, and that’s why we do what we do. We love each other. We just want to have the respect of management — the same respect we give everyone else. “

Cover photo: Collage: Screenshot/Twitter/lailaddaltonn & Alyssa Sanchez

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