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Starbucks to Shutter 16 Stores for Safety Concerns, Including One Unionized Location

Starbucks will reportedly close 16 U.S. stores, mostly on the West Coast, due to safety concerns, according to CNBC. The affected stores “have a particularly high volume of challenging incidents that make it unsafe for us to operate,” but one of them is unionized — and Starbucks Workers United is striking in response to what it sees as a union-busting move.

Six of the affected stores are in California, six are in Washington State, two  are in Portland, Ore. with one each in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Starbucks SVPs of U.S. Operations Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson cited several societal safety concerns in the areas where the stores were located, including increased violence and drug use, in a memo to employees.

“We want you to know that creating a safe, welcoming, and kind third place [a place between home and work] is our top priority,” said Stroud and Nelson in the memo. “Because simply put, we cannot serve as partners if we don’t first feel safe at work. The question on our minds is: How do we continue to show up for our communities while protecting our partners?”

The letter went on to detail Starbucks’ broader safety procedures and goals. The most notable was “modifying operations, closing a restroom, or even closing a store permanently, where safety in the third place is no longer possible,” but other efforts include:

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  • Robust safety training for all partners, including sessions on how to de-escalate situations, active shooter training and mental health first aid training;
  • Clear policies and procedures on how to engage local community resources or social services to support customers in need and handle customer restriction procedures; and
  • Designing safe and welcoming stores, and when needed, adjusting store formats, furniture layouts, hours of operation, staffing or testing store-specific solutions.

The safety concerns cited by Starbucks line up with data points seen by CNBC. Property crimes, including car theft, larceny theft and burglary and violent robberies were up almost 20% during the first five months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, according to the Seattle Police Department. The Los Angeles Police Department reported a 14% year-over-year increase during the first six months of 2022.

The letter did not mention unions, but one of the affected Seattle locations has organized with Starbucks Workers United. In response, the union has called the closings a “transparent union busting attempt” and organized strikes at three stores in the city.

More than 100 Starbucks stores have unionized since the end of 2021, and the retailer has been working on better benefits for workers — with a warning that unionized employees may not be eligible. The unionized workers have been preparing for potential conflict with Starbucks by creating a Strike and Defense Fund, to which the Workers United union has committed $1 million.

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