Starbucks fired worker liable for Staff United’s union marketing campaign

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz testifies about the company’s labor and union practices during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC March 29, 2023.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Starbucks fired Alexis Rizzo, the employee responsible for igniting Starbucks Workers United’s union campaign, just days after the company’s former CEO Howard Schultz testified Capitol about the coffee chain’s alleged anti-union behavior, CNBC confirmed.

Rizzo worked as a shift supervisor at Starbucks for seven years and was a union leader at the Genesee St. store in Buffalo, New York, which was one of the first two stores in the country to win its union campaign.

Starbucks Workers United announced Rizzo’s termination in a tweet Saturday, saying on a related GoFundMe page that “this is the worst retaliation.”

“I am absolutely heartbroken. It wasn’t just a job for me. It was like my family,” Rizzo said in an interview with CNBC. “It was like losing everything. I’ve been there since I was 17 years old. It’s like my entire support system and I think they knew that.”

Rizzo said her store managers fired her after she finished her shift on Friday. She said they told her it was because she was late four times – two of which were instances where she was a minute late. Rizzo suspects she was fired as a result of Wednesday’s Senate hearing, she said.

Schultz faced a series of tough questions from Senator Bernie Sanders Wednesday about Starbucks labor and union practices. Sanders, a pro-union Vermont independent, has been pressuring Starbucks to recognize the union and negotiate deals with unionized coffee shops for more than a year.

Sanders chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which led the panel.

During the hearing, Sanders said Starbucks engaged in “the most aggressive and illegal anti-union campaign in our country’s modern history.” He also accused the company of holding up collective agreements and betting that workers would give up and leave the coffee chain.

Schultz defended Starbucks’ bargaining approach, claiming that a direct relationship with workers was best for the company. He also denied several times that the company had ever violated federal labor laws and said his focus during his tenure as interim CEO was 99% on operations and not fighting the union.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Howard Schultz started lashing out at Buffalo two days after his ego was so bruised,” Rizzo said. She added that two other employees were also laid off on Friday.

Starbucks spokeswoman Rachel Wall said breakups at the company followed only clear violations of policy. In this case, she said there were numerous attendance violations that impacted other baristas at that store location.

“We appreciate that our Genesee St. partners delivered the Starbucks experience to each other and to our customers this morning, and that area stores continued to serve customers uninterrupted this weekend,” she said in a statement CNBC.

According to the National Labor Relations Board, nearly 300 Starbucks cafes voted to unionize under Starbucks Workers United. In total, the union has filed more than 500 complaints about unfair labor practices related to Starbucks with the Federal Chamber of Labor. Starbucks has filed about 100 complaints of its own against the union. Judges have found the company to have violated federal labor laws 130 times.

None of the unionized stores have yet agreed to a contract with Starbucks.

Rizzo said she is still “in shock” at the firing but plans to fight for her position.

“We will keep fighting to make things right,” she said. “I will fight back for my job and be rehired.”

— CNBC’s Amelia Lucas contributed to this report.

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