The past year seemed to be a good one for workers.
On a national scale, part-time UPS workers received a 55 percent raise, airline pilots saw 40 percent increases, and autoworkers negotiated a 25 bump in pay along with other cost-of-living adjustments.
Here in Nassau County, the Service Employees International Union won a slew of added benefits and a historic 19 percent pay increase for Long Island custodial workers.
But not all workplaces saw this kind of progress, and Anthony Price, a union leader from Uniondale, said he is paying the price for organizing in his place of work — a Starbucks in Westbury.
The Uniondale resident has spent months organizing his colleagues — part of a broader movement fighting for better pay and conditions with the popular coffee chain. After leading multiple strikes in October and November, Price was fired in December.
Price, who was described by co-workers as a “model employee,” said he had a confrontation with his shift manager during what he described as a frustrating work day three weeks ago. He was later called into the office, fully expecting to be written up for the encounter — a punishment he and his colleagues felt would have been appropriate, especially since he had never been in any kind of trouble before then and was, in fact, up for promotion.
But what transpired instead shocked not just Price, but his co-workers, as well as Workers United
— the union that represents Starbucks employees — after store management said they received a call from a higher up corporate office that Price was to be terminated for his outburst, and there was nothing they could do about it.
Starbucks’ disciplinary guidelines are described as a “progressive discipline model,” meaning that being fired is usually a last resort. The model involves a series of escalating steps, starting with less severe consequences and progressing to more serious ones if the issues persist. According to Clara Wheatley-Schaller, the political director for Workers United, there was no progressive discipline in Price’s case, and there have been similar incidents in the same store that have not led to any terminations.
“Anthony’s firing is part of a brutal and illegal union-busting campaign being waged by the company,” Wheatley-Schaller said. “The National Labor Relations Board has found that Starbucks has violated
federal labor law more than 270 times since the campaign began two years ago, making Starbucks one of the worst violators of labor law in modern U.S. history.”
Alisa Wrencher, the district manager for Starbucks, did not respond to the Herald’s repeated requests for comment.
In response to Price’s firing, officials from Workers United and members of Long Island Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor unions, community organizations, congregations and faith-based organizations, and students committed to protecting the rights of working people, gathered with Price and his co-workers on Dec. 19 to lead a rally outside of the Westbury store, demanding that Price be rehired.
Among those who attended the rally was Nassau County Legislator Siela Bynoe, who also believes Price was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for his union participation. “I serve Anthony’s home community, and I’m here to stand with Jobs with Justice and all the faith leaders here to ask, respectfully, to restore Anthony to his position,” Bynoe said at the rally to the stores management. “They have a right to organize, and they have a right to be protected.”
Price and Workers United have also filed an Unfair Labor Practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, the federal agency that interprets and enforces labor laws.
“We were shocked by his termination, and believe that Anthony was fired in retaliation for his leadership in the union,” Wheatley-Schaller said. “In October, Anthony led a march to the boss’s office and in November he went on strike with his coworkers as part of a national strike day, and was the primary chant leader at that strike.”
Although the Westbury store is unionized and represented by Workers United, Starbucks and Workers United do not currently have a contract, meaning that nothing has changed for employees at any Starbucks throughout the country that has unionized. In September, the NLRB ruled that Starbucks had excluded unionized employees from receiving pay raises, tips and benefits, and refused to engage in contract negotiations with unionized stores.
Price is now one of three
Long Island union leaders — all people of color — who have been fired from Starbucks for infractions that other employees usually aren’t terminated for. All three also believe their firings were due to their outspoken leadership in the union.
For now, Price is looking for another job in the service industry, but is hopeful that the NLRB will rule in his favor, citing other Starbucks union leaders across the country who have accused the company of similar practices.
One he mentioned was Alendra Harris
, a union leader with Workers United in Colorado, who was fired with no prior infractions after her manager falsely accused her of leaving money unattended. The NLRB recently ruled that Starbucks fired her in retaliation for her union leadership, and ordered that she receive back pay.
“In almost two years of employment with this company, I have never been so much as written up,” Price said, “but the moment I stand up for myself and my co-workers, I’m met with immediate termination — no second chance, and not even a warning, just a swift kick in the pants and a ‘notice of separation.’ I’m disgusted with this clear show of favoritism and anti-union rhetoric, but at the same time, I’m not surprised.”