Workers at Ann Arbor Starbucks strike again following 'retaliation'

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Workers at a Starbucks Corp. in Ann Arbor walked off the job again on Friday morning and plan to stay on strike through Sunday following what union organizers call retaliatory measures and a denial of union representation.

The action happened after the company on Thursday fired a colleague and union organizer at the store in the Glencoe Crossing Shopping Center off Washtenaw Avenue. In addition to her reinstatement, employees are demanding the repeal of some other corrective actions against workers and that the company come to the bargaining table to negotiate a contract.

Ryder Meilstrup-Eady, center, a supervisor at Starbucks, holds up a sign outside an Ann Arbor store where workers went on strike Friday.

"If anything, they've unleashed a beast with my store," said Sasha Anisimova, 26, of Ypsilanti, who was terminated from her job as a partner, what Starbucks calls its employees. "They're displaying it's more than just me. It's a whole union of workers."

The store's manager referred comment to Starbucks' corporate communications staff.

"We respect our partners’ right to engage in any legally protected activity or protest without retaliation," Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesperson, said in a statement. "We are grateful for each partner who continues to work and we always do our best to listen to the concerns of all our partners."

It's the second strike at the 4585 Washtenaw Ave. location in as many months after the Starbucks store was one of the first in Michigan to unionize in June, a milestone in a labor movement sweeping the country as workers demand better pay and treatment amid a labor shortage and high inflation.

Anisimova planned the first strike early last month in protest of the Seattle-based coffee shop chain delaying wage raises for employees at unionized stores and of Starbucks unilaterally lengthening store hours without coming to the negotiating table.

She said she received a call on Thursday from her store manager, who connected her with the interim district manager, with whom she says she'd never spoken to before. He informed her she was being terminated from her position as a partner — what Starbucks calls its employees.

“He read very clearly from a script from the company,” said Anisimova, who also is an organizer with Workers United. “He said a problem was brought forward, and the investigation was concluded.”

She said the manager cited "concerning behavior and comments," but didn't provide specifics, and said she would receive a letter of termination in the mail.

Sasha Anisimova, a barista at Starbucks, talks to supporters about her firing from Starbucks yesterday.

“I have no clue what they terminated me for,” she said, adding she had no knowledge of an investigation. “They wouldn’t answer my questions. I said this is retaliation and union-busting.”

Starbucks Borges' said Anisimova is no longer with the company for "store policy violations."

"We take seriously our commitment to creating a respectful and fair work environment for all the partners in our store and our partners are aware that failing to uphold these standards can result in separation," the statement said. "A partner’s interest in a union does not exempt them from the standards we have always held. We will continue enforcing our policies and partners consistently for all partners."

Anisimova said she plans to file an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. A federal judge last month ordered Starbucks to reinstate employees it had fired in Memphis, Tennessee, who were involved in a union organizing drive.

Anisimova said she previously was written up for a corrective action for not showing up to a shift after a miscommunication about the store being closed, but the issue was resolved after she employed Weingarten rights, or union representation, in meetings with management, and was able to show a text chain that resulted in the confusion.

But she says similar instances happened to other employees, who didn't receive their Weingarten rights.

L-r, Sasha Anisimova, a barista at Starbucks and Ryder Meilstrup-Eady, a supervisor at Starbucks, yells strike slogan to motorist as they drive on Washtenaw St. September 2, 2022, Ann Arbor, MI.

"We want change," she said. "We will only get change through collective bargaining. They’ve stonewalled us."

In response to a letter from Lynne Fox, president of the Service Employees International Union, an affiliate of Workers United, May Jensen, vice president of partner resources, in a letter dated last week says Starbucks only will negotiate with unionized stores on an individual basis and not nationally. It requested names of the bargaining agents for each location to begin negotiations.

"Starbucks is prepared, and looks forward to," Jensen wrote, "engaging in good faith in-person negotiations over terms and conditions of employment for represented partners, including over the subjects of hours of work and partner scheduling, upon request of the union, as well as the other subjects to be discussed and codified in individual store collective bargaining agreements."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble