Militant Journalism

NYC labor unions demand reinstatement of fired Starbucks organizer

On July 22, over a hundred workers, community members and labor activists rallied in front of the Starbucks at Ditmars Blvd and 31st Street in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, New York City to protest the wrongful termination of Austin Locke, a worker who was recently fired by the coffee chain for union activity. The rally was coordinated by Starbucks Workers United, Restaurant Workers Union, the Democratic Socialists of America, Left Voice and Socialist Alternative, and attended by organizations such as the Amazon Labor Union and the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Local politicians such as New York State Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani and New York City Council Member Tiffany Cabán were also in attendance.

On June 8, Locke reported a shift supervisor to Human Resources and the District Manager for putting his hands on him to prevent him from completing a mandatory COVID check-in before starting his first shift back after recovering from COVID. Locke, a Starbucks employee for six years, had been active in the unionization effort at the Astoria location, with his store winning its union election June 30. Five days after the election, Starbucks terminated Locke for “making a false claim” against the supervisor, despite a co-worker confirming that she overheard the supervisor admit to pushing Locke. SWU sees Locke’s firing as retaliation for his role in the successful unionization push.

‘What’s disgusting? Union busting!’

The action began with a picket in front of the store, with organizers leading supporters up and down the block, chanting, “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” Several times over the course of the picket, police officers intervened to tell the protesters to allow room in front of the Starbucks store for customers to enter.

During the rally, other wrongfully terminated workers spoke to advancing class struggle to confront the conditions working people face.

“Struggle is inseparable from our lives. The point of this fight is not to erase struggle, but to have our struggle met with reward,” said Zakaria Khafagy, who was recently fired for organizing his workplace, CBD Kratom. “Why am I working 40 hours a week to pay $500 on a room in an apartment, only to have no money left to feed myself? Why? Why am I expected to make a million dollars a month for this greedy cannabis corporation, when all they want to do is burn us out? Why?”

Crowd of supporters in front of Starbucks. Liberation photo: Amanda Yee.

‘You come for one worker, you come for us all’

While SWU is demanding Locke’s reinstatement with back pay and compensation for harassment and illegal termination, its members and other organizers at the rally also expressed the need for solidarity among all workers to confront the common enemy of the capitalist class. 

“In all industries, the bosses and the capitalists are facing a generalized economic crisis and have to squeeze the workers even harder to continue to survive as a class,” stated Locke. “So I’m not only here to highlight my struggle at Starbucks. Starbucks workers are just one link in a whole chain of production that extends across the globe.” 

Locke continued by highlighting the exploitation across the entire global coffee supply chain.

“Every day the coffee beans in Starbucks coffee are grown and picked by farm workers making a dollar a day in Asia, Africa, Central and South America,” he explained. “These beans are packed, shipped by factory and transportation workers all around the world working long hours in the heat, and then it gets to us baristas at Starbucks, where we assemble everything and serve you the final product.”

Other labor organizers echoed Locke’s sentiments of solidarity.

“United we stand, divided we fall,” said Gerald Bryson, co-founder of Amazon Labor Union, who recently won a lawsuit against the tech giant to reinstate him at the company with backpay, after being terminated for union organizing. “All unions should support each other. We’re all brothers and sisters in the same struggle.”

Despite his termination, Locke remained resolute and unwavering in his commitment to the working class.

“When we are unified and fight back, they can’t touch us,” he maintained. “You come for one worker, you come for us all.”

To support Locke, consider signing the SWU pledge and donating to his GoFundMe.

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