Starbucks fired employee responsible for Workers United’s union campaign

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz testifies about the company̵[ads1]7;s labor and union practices during a hearing before 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 Hill about the coffee chain’s alleged union busting, CNBC confirmed.

Rizzo worked as a shift supervisor at Starbucks for 7 years and served as 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 resignation in a tweet Saturday and said in a corresponding GoFundMe page that “this is retaliation at its worst.”

“I’m absolutely devastated. It wasn’t just a job for me. It was like my family,” Rizzo told CNBC in an interview. “It was like losing everything. I’ve been there since I was 17 years old. It’s like my whole support system, and I think they knew it.”

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

Schultz faced a barrage of tough questions from Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday about Starbucks’ labor and union practices. Sanders, a pro-union independent who represents Vermont, has been pressuring Starbucks for more than a year to recognize the union and negotiate contracts with unionized cafes.

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

During the hearing, Sanders said that Starbucks has engaged in the “most aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign in the nation’s modern history.” He also accused the company of stalling on collective bargaining agreements, betting that workers will give up and leave the coffee chain.

Schultz defended Starbucks’ approach to its negotiations, maintaining that a direct relationship with workers is best for the company. He also repeatedly denied the company ever violated federal labor law and said his focus during his time as interim CEO was 99% on operations, not on fighting the union.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two days after Howard Schultz got his ego bruised the way he did that he started lashing out against Buffalo,” Rizzo said. She added that two other employees were also fired on Friday.

Starbucks spokeswoman Rachel Wall said separations at the company only follow clear violations of policy. In this case, she said there were many attendance violations that affected other baristas at this store.

“We appreciate that our Genesee St. partners provided the Starbucks Experience to each other and our customers this morning, and that area stores continue to serve customers without interruption this weekend,” she told CNBC in a statement.

Nearly 300 Starbucks coffee shops have voted to unionize under Starbucks Workers United, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board. In total, the union has filed more than 500 unfair labor practice complaints related to Starbucks with the Federal Labor Board. Starbucks has filed about 100 of its own complaints against the union. Judges have found the company violated federal labor laws 130 times.

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

Rizzo said she is still “in shock” about being fired, but plans to fight for her position.

“We’re going to keep fighting to make things right,” she said. “I’m going to fight for my job back and to be reinstated.”

— CNBC’s Amelia Lucas contributed to this report.

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