A year after the Starbucks workers in Ithaca successfully voted to unionize and the Collegetown location subsequently closed, Starbucks has announced that it will permanently close the two remaining Ithaca locations — on E. Seneca Street and S. Meadow Street — by May 26, although it denied that the closures were in retaliation for the unionization effort, according to a statement made by a Starbucks official to the Ithaca Voice.
According to Evan Sunshine ’24, who took the lead on the original 2022 collective bargaining negotiations, Andrew Sugar, the district manager for both Ithaca locations, informed workers on shift — including Sunshine — at the E. Seneca Street location on May 5 about the stores’ closure, while those not on shift received a brief voicemail with no caller ID.
Sunshine stated that Starbucks’ justification to the workers for closing the stores was due to financial and operational needs, although he expressed skepticism about the reasoning.
“The store with the most significant amount of revenue [the College Avenue location] was shut down,” Sunshine, who worked at the College Avenue location prior to its closing, said. “So most of the customers have migrated to the Commons and Meadow stores in different capacities, meaning that the revenues for those stores are actually higher than they were in previous years, especially because the Commons store has recently acquired a bus stop.” The Sun could not independently verify the revenue at the Ithaca locations.
Sunshine also said a support manager — which is a position that is only present at union stores such as Ithaca’s — had spoken to a worker at the E. Seneca Street location about the stores’ closing and blamed it on the unionization effort the same day of the announcement.
“This support manager told one of the workers that it was because of the unionization effort that the store was going to be closed,” Sunshine said.
Starbucks Corporate did not respond to The Sun’s request for comment by the time of publication.
Some Starbucks employees, including Sunshine, believe that the closure was a retaliation against a march on the boss — in which employees initiated a confrontation with management about the working conditions of the store, presenting a letter detailing their grievances at a store meeting — and against emails that were leaked from upper executives at Starbucks regarding the closing of the College Avenue location to HuffPost.
A similar issue arose during the closure of the College Avenue location. In April 2022, just eight days after the unionization vote, the workers went on strike. They cited unsafe working conditions due to a failed kitchen grease trap — that spilled a foul-smelling mixture of wastewater and kitchen grease on the floor — and the then-acting manager Victor Rodostny’s refusal to close the store despite the ensuing slippery floors and customer complaints as their reasons for striking.
Starbucks then closed the location permanently in June 2022, publicly citing the grease trap as one of multiple reasons for its closure. However, an email obtained by The Sun from Mallori Coulombe, Starbucks regional director for Western and Upstate New York to two other Starbucks executives references “brand needs” as the rationale for closing the location.
“I would like to proceed with closure as the space is not meeting our partners or brand needs,” Coulombe wrote in the email.
Starbucks Workers United — the union representing Ithaca’s Starbucks employees — has already responded to Starbucks’ most recent announcement by filing an injunction in federal court to prevent the stores’ closure and unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks with the National Labor Relations Board, in addition to the case currently in progress. The union hopes that these challenges will not only allow the E. Seneca Street and S. Meadow Street locations to remain open, but also force Starbucks to reopen the College Avenue location.
“Hopefully public pressure will convince Starbucks to keep the stores open,” Sunshine said.