NYC sues Starbucks for firing union organizing barista in Astoria

NYC sues Starbucks for firing union organizing barista in Astoria


Mayor Adams’ administration is suing Starbucks over allegations that the coffee corporation unlawfully fired a Queens barista who had been involved in unionization efforts — marking the first time the city has taken legal action under its landmark “just cause” labor law, the Daily News has learned.

The barista, Austin Locke, worked at a recently-unionized Starbucks in Astoria from October 2016 until July 5, when he was terminated after having been out sick for a few days, states a complaint filed Thursday by the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.

Starbucks claimed it axed Locke because he failed to complete a COVID-19 questionnaire upon returning to work, according to the complaint, which was submitted with the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and exclusively obtained by The News. But Locke alleges he didn’t complete the questionnaire because he couldn’t find a tablet to do it on, and said he explained that to his supervisor, too.

Locke, 28, said he’s convinced his bosses drummed up the “bogus” auspice for his termination in retaliation for his role in organizing his workplace.

“They knew I was the main person behind the union, and five days after we win the election, they decide to do this,” he said in an interview.

“Getting fired for something that you didn’t do and they’re claiming you did has been pretty messed up. It’s been isolating.”

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After an independent investigation of Locke’s accusations, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection charged in its complaint that it concluded his firing violated the city’s Fair Workweek Law, which bars fast food and chain eateries from canning workers without “just cause,” such as an act of on-the-job misconduct or a legitimate economic reason. Locke’s action marks the first litigation the city has pursued under the law since it took effect in July 2021.

The complaint asks that a judge order Starbucks to reinstate Locke and issue him back pay for lost work as well as civil penalties.

“I really want to get my job back,” Locke said.

A Starbucks representative said the company will defend itself against the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection complaint, but declined to comment further.

Locke’s workplace on 31st Street became the second Starbucks in Queens to unionize when its employees voted 7-4 in favor of it on June 30. The organizing effort mirrors a trend that has played out across the U.S. during the pandemic, with 71% of Americans now thinking favorably of labor unions — the highest ranking since 1965, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Vilda Vera Mayuga, Adams’ consumer and worker protection commissioner, encouraged other workers who believe they’ve been unlawfully terminated to contact her agency. She also said Locke’s filing comes at an appropriate time of year.

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“As we approach Labor Day, it’s important to remember that workers are the backbone of our city and deserve the right to organize to promote safer and fairer work practices,” Mayuga said. “The Department of Consumer and worker Protection stands ready to fight for the dignity and respect that all workers deserve from their employers.”



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