Starbucks has fired an employee responsible for the Workers United union campaign

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

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Starbucks fired Alexis Rizzo, the employee responsible for launching the Starbucks Workers United labor campaign, just days after the company’s former CEO, Howard Schultz, testified about American parliament about the alleged anti-union activity of the coffee chain.

Rizzo worked as a shift supervisor at Starbucks for seven 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 layoff in a tweet on Saturday and said in a corresponding GoFundMe page that “this is the worst retaliation.”

“I’m absolutely heartbroken. It wasn’t just a job for me. It was like my family,” Rizzo told CNBC in an interview. “It was like I lost everything. I’ve been there since I was 17. It’s like my whole 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 – including two times when she was a minute late.

Starbucks told CNBC that Rizzo missed more than four hours of work during those cases and repeatedly received notes for being late.

Starbucks spokeswoman Rachel Wall said the company separations only followed clear policy violations. In this case, she said there were numerous attendance violations that affected other baristas in that store.

“We appreciate that our partners at Genesee St. brought the Starbucks experience to themselves and our customers this morning, and that stores in the area continue to serve customers uninterrupted this weekend,” he said. she told CNBC in a statement.

Rizzo said the suspects were released following Wednesday’s Senate hearing.

Schultz faced a volley of tough questions from Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday about Starbucks’ labor and union practices. Sanders, a pro-union independent representing Vermont, has been lobbying Starbucks for more than a year to recognize the union and negotiate contracts with unionized coffee shops.

Starbucks' Schultz and Bernie Sanders clash over Starbucks unions

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

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

Schultz defended Starbucks’ approach to its negotiations, saying a direct relationship with workers is best for the company. He also repeatedly denied that the company ever violated federal labor laws and said that during his tenure as interim CEO he was 99% focused on operations, not 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, he started going after Buffalo,” Rizzo said. She added that two other employees were also made redundant on Friday.

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 Commission. Starbucks filed about 100 of its own complaints against the union. Judges found the company violated federal labor laws 130 times.

None of the unionized stores has yet entered into a contract with Starbucks.

Rizzo said she was still “in shock” at being fired, but planned to fight for her job.

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

– CNBC’s Amelia Lucas contributed to this report.

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