• Thu. Sep 22nd, 2022

The fight between Starbucks and Union—Chinatown becomes a victim

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Jul 21, 2022

By Assunta Ng
NORTH-WEST ASIA WEEKLY

Starbucks employee Mari Cosgrove holds two protest signs. (Photo by Assunta Ng)

About 30 Starbucks employees picketed its Union Station store July 18 to protest its closure in Chinatown. Starbucks announced the closure of six stores in the Puget Sound area earlier this month due to crime complaints.

The Chinatown-International District (CID) store was closed on July 12, instead of its announced closing date of July 31. Will the store be temporarily closed? What will be the fate of this store?

One customer actually cried upon hearing the news, according to Mari Cosgrove, one of 15 employees who worked at the store for four years.

“I had to explain to my regular (customers) that we are closing. One of them was crying. They missed me and they hugged me. It was really hard.

Cosgrove said she and her colleagues were shocked when they heard about the shutdown during a July 11 virtual meeting. The next day, employees showed up for work to find the store was closed. Outside the door was a notice, “OUR STORE IS TEMPORARILY CLOSED…”

Starbucks employees picket to attract supporters. (Photo by Assunta Ng)

Starbucks CID supervisor Erin Bray also cried during an interview with the Asian Weekly. She said she had never felt unsafe to work in the past three years.

“It’s ironic” that Starbucks said it wasn’t safe, Bray said. “Vulcan’s (property management company) has three to four security guards.

Cosgrove was also skeptical of safety as the reason for the store’s closure. “Union” was the reason, she said. Chinatown and Olive Way stores voted to unionize and are on the list of store closures.

“We were certified on May 27,” she added.

Known as a progressive leader, Howard Schultz, Starbucks and interim CEO, and his company have donated millions of dollars to communities of color. It has also invested heavily to revitalize underprivileged neighborhoods. When NBA player Erwin “Magic” Johnson and Schultz formed a partnership, they showed up for their first store opening at 23rd Avenue and South Jackson Street in Seattle’s Downtown district in 1997. I was here.

Security guards were posted outside Union Starbucks Station during the picket. (Photo by Assunta Ng)

“Will Chinatown also have a Starbucks?” I wondered then. It was exciting for many in the community when we learned that Starbucks was going to open a CID location.

Since 2000, Starbucks has been part of the CID. With over 2,000 square feet, the CID store is in a prime location, around the corner from the gateway to both stadiums via a bridge.

But Schultz is obsessed with breaking up the union. According to a CNN report, Schultz “worked hard to dissuade workers from unionizing, asking workers to avoid unions even before he officially returned to the company as general manager.” Starbucks employees receive a generous benefits package. However, no matter what he does, “unionization has only grown”.

The reason for the closure

“We were doing so well (financially),” Cosgrove said. “We are one of the busiest stores. We currently serve around 120 people in an hour during our busiest times, such as game day,” Cosgrove said. “In the morning, we would miss about 300 customers who will not be able to have their morning coffee.”

“Starbucks is closing stores in marginalized communities,” Cosgrove said. “We love seeing the community pressure Starbucks to reopen the store. I like working at the store. She said she also enjoys working at CID.

Starbucks said it was closing the store due to security concerns. Cosgrove said, “There are no safety issues in the store…I never felt unsafe (working in the store).”

The problem was in early 2020 when mask-wearing was to be enforced, Cosgrove said. It’s not about safety, she said, it’s more about “breaking the rules” as some people shouted who refused to wear masks.

“That’s rude,” she said. “Closing the store for rude (customer) behavior is not a good idea.”

Some people need food and need to be referred to food banks. Cosgrove reported these issues and requested assistance from corporate office.

Bray said his store asked for help from Community Resource Officers, also Starbucks employees who were dealing with the issues, but never got any. She wanted “help from the community to keep us open.” That’s why she voted to unionize: “We stand together. We want our voices to be heard.

“We’re doing well financially, we’re doing well in the community,” Cosgrove said. We want to continue to be here in the CID. I want to continue working here. Meanwhile, Starbucks CID employees are in limbo.

Starbucks’ response

“These closures are the result of conversations we’ve had over the past few months since Howard Schultz returned as CEO,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in response to an inquiry from Asian Weekly.

Starbucks has been receiving concerns from workers, partners and employees for several months about ongoing safety issues, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They felt challenged to provide a safe and welcoming environment.” And the company “considered different factors, and decided in these particular cases, the best thing is” … closing these stores.

While the baristas told Asian Weekly they had not received help from Starbucks to address mental health and homelessness, the spokesperson said Starbucks had been working on these issues for years. months with different groups.

“It will be permanently closed by July 31,” he said. Asked if it will be reopened? He reiterated that it would be “permanently closed” even though Starbucks still has a few years left on its lease.

CID during COVID

Compared to other communities, the CID has been the hardest hit during the pandemic. The community has been stigmatized and traumatized. The first organized Black Lives Matter protest in Washington State took place at CID on May 29, 2020. Dissident groups subsequently vandalized and destroyed CID. The invasion was treacherous, I have no words for that.

Overnight, around 200 stores were closed. It became a ghost town for months and most businesses closed for over a year. Elderly residents were afraid to leave their apartments and groceries had to be delivered to them. Firefighters and social workers teamed up to go to their homes for vaccinations.

Some community members were hesitant to dine and shop in the CID due to news of anti-Asian hate crimes. The recovery took much longer than in other communities.

The CID retrieval process is slowly accelerating. Yet the news of Starbucks closing does not inspire confidence in outsiders. This will cause a ripple effect, discouraging potential visitors and investors for our community. Although the CID has a public safety problem, Mayor Bruce Harrell is working hard on it. Progress has been made. The police patrol the CID more often. The Union Station building, where Starbucks is located, is well managed by Vulcan. Its security is constantly present. Whatever the real reason Starbucks is closing the CID store, think again. Don’t give up the CID.

The impact of Starbucks on the CID

Whatever the reason for Starbucks closing, the CID loses. What does it mean for our community when a Fortune 500 company abandons our neighborhood?

A once bustling corner of the CID, welcoming locals and tourists, rich and poor, young and old, is now deserted, and for how long, no one knows. All of that effort that Starbucks put in for over 22 years is now dissolved into trash like its leftover coffee.

Another empty storefront has now been added to CID’s list of businesses that died during the pandemic. Each closed or relocated business reminds us of how difficult it is for our community to attract new ones. And how long do we have to wait for fresh blood to arrive and replenish it?

This Starbucks has been a stabilizing force for the neighborhood. I’ve seen restaurant owners and workers enjoying their Morning Joe sitting outside Starbucks before their shifts. For some, Starbucks provided their only break for the whole day. It is also a place for romantic beginnings. A friend of mine used Starbucks CID as her initial dating site for online dates, and she met the love of her life there after several attempts. It’s also the store where I made several business deals and interviewed political candidates for endorsements.

There is a Chinese saying: “Either you die or I perish”. Like his coffee stuck in his grinder, the tension between the union and Starbucks only grows and the two see no way out.

Mr. Shultz, does it have to be that way between you, your employees and the union, though!? Part of your legacy is identifying weak communities and building them into strong communities. You’ve done it for CID and many others. Thanks. Don’t tarnish your legacy.

Now is not the time to turn our backs on us. The CID is vulnerable and needs your support more than ever.

Assunta can be contacted at [email protected]


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