On Monday, seven Starbucks workers in Memphis, Tennessee, were fired from their jobs as baristas. According to the company, these firings were a response to multiple violations of company “safety and security” policies, but for Kylie Throckmorton, a barista who was fired by Starbucks, it wasn’t a coincidence that all seven of the fired baristas were also involved in organizing a union at their store.
The Memphis location is one of 60 Starbucks locations across the country that are currently mounting organizing campaigns as Starbucks Workers United. The effort started in Buffalo, New York, and has expanded to more than 19 states, including Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts, and California. As they pursue collective bargaining with Starbucks, the workers are advocating for higher wages, better benefits, and a safer workplace. The company has responded to these campaigns with what the union describes as intimidation, ranging from bringing in corporate staff to surveil stores to the firings of union organizers in Memphis.
As she stood on the picket line outside of her Starbucks location on Wednesday, Throckmorton spoke with Eater about her experience with the union campaign, what led up to her firing, and what she hopes to see in the coming months as the Starbucks union momentum continues to grow.
Eater: How did you get involved with the union effort?
Kylie Throckmorton: We saw what happened in Buffalo, we saw what happened in Elmwood in Chicago, and we decided we need to push for change. We work for one of the stores in our district that we feel gets mistreated the most, so we gathered a group of baristas and started pushing for the union. And now here we are.
Did Starbucks corporate or your store managers start to behave differently after the union campaign went public?
We started seeing a lot more corporate presence. Before, I’d only ever seen our district manager maybe once or twice, and ever since we went public she’s been in at least once a week. We’ve had managers coming in from different stores every single day. They can’t really talk about unionization or anything, but they’ve all been dancing around it. Some will try to act like your best friend all of the sudden, and some are trying to scare people into quitting so that they can’t vote in the election.
How did you find out that you were losing your job?
About a month ago, [management] started an investigation of people on our union committee and a few other baristas. On Monday, my proxy manager gave me a call and told me to come in for a one-on-one meeting. The store had been closed for a week due to the bad winter storm, and she said she wanted to do a check-in with the power and everything. When I got there, two people were there that I wasn’t expecting, and they told me I’d been terminated.
What were the company’s stated reasons for firing you?