Sixteen Starbucks stores across the country, six of which are in LA, are set to shut down by the end of the month. And according to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, more closures are imminent. In a leaked video obtained by Seattle radio host Ari Hoffman, Schultz said closures were due to homelessness, crime, and personal safety risks of employees.
“Starbucks is a window into America. We have stores in every community, and we are facing things which the stores were not built for. And so we’re listening to our people and closing stores, and this is just the beginning. There are going to be many more,” Schultz said.
But in recent months, an increasing number of Starbucks stores have been unionizing. In LA County, three stores have already done so, and another four recently filed to join the union. This has led some organizers to speculate that the closures are an intimidation tactic, meant to stop employees at other stores from organizing.
Eater LA’s Mona Holmes reported on the questions and controversy surrounding these closures. She says that while some workers she spoke to did cite safety concerns, the sudden nature of the closings raised eyebrows.
“A handful of workers have reached out and actually did say that there was a lot of danger about their job when working with the public,” she says. “But another person said working in the food service industry has always been challenging. … The timing of it and the method which management is taking is what's got everyone second-guessing this rationale around safety.”
None of the six stores that are closing in Los Angeles are unionized. However, two of the Seattle stores are, and another in Portland had petitioned to hold a union vote.
Holmes notes that when she reached out to a Starbucks spokesperson, they were unspecific when she asked about the nature of the incidents at these stores, and how long they had been looking at the data. Some workers felt “blindsided” by the announcement, since there was little discussion about worker safety prior to the closures.
“The unionization efforts have a key point of making sure that worker safety is at the top of that list,” says Holmes. “So they felt like there was a disconnect in what they were saying versus what they were doing, as far as management goes.”
Holmes also analyzed a map of the LA stores that are closing to see if location could offer clues. She pointed out that while one store in a bustling area of West Hollywood is near long-standing coffee competitors, it’s unclear why it was the only Starbucks in the area selected for closure.
“There's also four other Starbucks within walking distance, and none of these other coffee shops announced plans to close because of issues related to public safety,” says Holmes. “So the fact that everyone has so many questions tells me that they have some work to do with communicating exactly why they want these closures.”