by Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
August 22, 2022
Thursday was supposed to be Shawn Harper-Ray’s day off.
That day last week at the Starbucks in Santa Fe on St. Michael’s Drive between Calle Lorca and Plaza del Sur Drive, a couple of workers called in sick.
One of Harper-Ray’s co-workers contacted them to say a manager was on the clock, but refused to help out the short-staffed crew.
So Harper-Ray, a barista, came in on their day off and worked from about 5 p.m. until 8:30 p.m., then did a quick turnaround the next morning for their scheduled shift at 5:30 a.m.
When a manager is in the building, Harper-Ray expects that person to help out their store in any way possible. But workers at the two New Mexico stores with active union drives said managers have instead been constantly surveilling them during their shifts or claim to be too busy in meetings rather than help out on the line.
In interviews with Source New Mexico, four Starbucks workers involved in organizing efforts in the state said the surveillance started after it became clear they were organizing. The managers also started questioning them about unionizing, encouraging them to vote against joining the union, and threatening to take away their benefits if they unionize.
On Aug. 16, Harper-Ray and their 20 co-workers at the Starbucks store filed a petition to unionize with Starbucks Workers United.
The next day, they filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the company alleging interrogation, changes in working conditions, coercion and retaliation.
The fridge in the back of the Starbucks at Interstate-40 and Rio Grande in Albuquerque is partially covered by anti-union messaging and NLRB notices. (Courtesy photo)
The news that a second store in New Mexico had filed to unionize was exciting for Jacob Sherwood and Madz Dazzo, the two workers who are leading the organizing efforts among about 39 Starbucks workers at the Interstate-40 and Rio Grande location in Albuquerque.
When they first started, they felt like outcasts in the eyes of the company.
“It’s really nice to see other stores starting to unionize here,” Dazzo said. “It was definitely nerve-wracking being the first one, and really not knowing what we were getting ourselves into.”
Sherwood it is heartwarming to see the store in Santa Fe file to unionize.
“They have our full support in this, and I hope they don’t feel alone like we did, because we’re all in this together,” Sherwood said.
There is not yet a set date for a vote on the union at the Santa Fe store. The Albuquerque store is expected to receive its mail-in ballots this week, and they will vote on Sept. 15.
Source New Mexico reviewed a “Partner Communication” posted by District Manager Phil Amador in the back of the Albuquerque store.
“I hope you’ll consider voting NO,” Amador wrote in bold text on the poster. “There is no opt out if the majority of partners who submit their ballots vote yes for the union.”
“Please get the facts and Vote NO,” another unsigned poster in the back of house states.
Dazzo said the posters are only part of the campaign of misinformation by management.
“It’s illegal for them to be telling us how to vote at all,” they said.
Targeted for organizing
Ashlee Southern had been with the company for nine years, Sherwood and Dazzo said. She had never been disciplined prior to an incident which led to her wrongful firing, Dazzo said.
Sherwood and Dazzo said there was a miscommunication on Southern’s schedule between the Starbucks app and the paper schedule that led to her firing in early August.
She was supposed to open the store at 4 a.m., but she did not realize that she had been scheduled, so she called around 9 a.m. to apologize, “but management didn’t take that for an answer,” Sherwood said.
Dazzo said Southern missed one of her shifts because she hadn’t been scheduled for a while and didn’t know she was on the schedule. A few weeks later, the company hired a new store manager who came in and fired Southern, Dazzo said.
“I think it was because she was really pro-union,” Sherwood said. “It was targeted because she was unionizing, for sure.”
That incident, along with other problems, led the workers to file an unfair labor practices complaint against the company, alleging retaliation, interrogation of workers, changes in working conditions and coercive statements by management.
Reached for comment on Friday, a Starbucks spokesperson said in an email that Southern “is no longer with Starbucks for store policy violations.”
“We will continue enforcing our policies consistently for all partners,” the spokesperson said.
However, company policy requires managers to start with a documented verbal warning, then a written warning, and then a final warning before they fire someone, Dazzo said.
“Ashlee did not get that,” Dazzo said.
Southern may still have a chance at getting her job back: A federal judge ruled last week that seven workers fired by Starbucks for unionizing in Memphis, Tenn. must be reinstated.
At both stores in New Mexico, workers said the public can help out by coming in and being vocally supportive of the union.
“An encouraging word goes a long way,” Harper-Ray said. “It helps me at least feel that we are doing the right thing.
Specifically at the Albuquerque location, Sherwood said the public can help the union drive by ordering on the mobile app under the name “Union Strong” or “Reinstate Ashlee.”
“When you’re having a rough shift, but you see someone ordering under the name ‘Union Strong,’ it makes a bad day so much better,” Sherwood said.
At both the Albuquerque and Santa Fe locations, workers have noticed changes at their store since they filed to unionize. Corporate has been pushing the boundaries of what is legal and not, Sherwood said.
Sherwood and Harper-Ray said since they filed their petitions district and store managers have been constantly watching them.
The managers camp out in the store for eight to nine hours per day, Sherwood said. That could be considered surveillance on workers because they are trying to unionize, he said.
The Starbucks location on St. Michael’s Drive in Santa Fe. has seen more customers than usual, according to Shawn Harper-Ray, a barista there. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
Despite management being more physically present, “their actual management is decreasing,” said Naomi Martinez, a Starbucks worker in Arizona who helps connect others with the union throughout the Southwest.
In just the five days since the Santa Fe store filed to unionize, Martinez said, managers have become more antagonistic with workers and are now refusing to help out on the floor, even when a shift is short-staffed. This results in workers not receiving breaks or lunches, Martinez said.
“That is a switch in behavior that we’re seeing in less than a week when that’s not something that ever happens to Starbucks stores,” Martinez said. “Even with state laws in New Mexico, you’re still supposed to follow Starbucks policy, which is to give them the breaks and lunches.”
So now someone like Harper-Ray, who is leading the organizing drive, feels compelled to pick up the slack even when it’s not their responsibility, Martinez said.
“I’m OK with that, but I just don’t want to see it happen to my co-workers, especially since they’re all good people that I work with,” Harper-Ray said. “I don’t want them to have to pay the price for an idea that I brought to them, even if I still stand by that idea.”
Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: email@example.com. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.