| Photo by Dave Peterson

There’s more than coffee brewing at the Starbucks at 711 Lake St. as workers continue pushing for unionization. The efforts, which began as a trickle last November, have poured onto the streets of Oak Park with pro-union demonstrators showing support for the baristas and their recently fired lead organizer, Amanda Carelli.

Carelli, a single mother, was fired by Starbucks last Thursday — one day after she staged a “sip-in,” a protest used by unionizing Starbucks workers to encourage customer support by buying small and tipping large. A Starbucks corporate representative denied this was the cause of Carelli’s dismissal. Others, however, find the timing suspicious.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Amanda, who organized that on Wednesday, was then fired on Thursday,” said card-carrying Starbucks worker Nicole Deming, who set up a GoFundMe for Carelli, despite working at separate locations.

Carelli, the representative said, was terminated for an instance back in March of “unprofessional” conduct, “including the use of profane language directed at a customer.”

“This is retaliation,” Carelli said of her dismissal.

Starbucks company policy prohibits retaliatory behavior directed toward employees interested in unionizing. Last month, a U.S National Labor Relations judge ruled that the coffee corporation had illegally fired six pro-union employees in the state of New York. 

Carelli recalled a different version of the incident that allegedly got her fired. She told Wednesday Journal a difficult customer had shouted at her and called her names, so she went into the backroom and said she could not work with that particular client. Carelli admitted she called that customer “a bitch,” but it was said behind closed doors and out of earshot of the customer. In any event, the incident was a one-off that warranted a warning, not termination, according to Carelli, who also said she had no prior strikes against her employment record. 

Her dismissal, she believes, was purely an act of union busting.

“It was a tactic to scare my co-workers and it has not worked,” Carelli said. “It has only made my team angry.” 

Photo by Dave Peterson

Several pro-union protests have occurred in the days before and since Carelli lost her job. Oak Park Village Trustee-elect Brian Straw was among those stationed outside the coffee shop on Saturday, as was Joe Carmichael, alderman of Berwyn’s 8th Ward. 

Incoming trustee Straw said he felt it important to show his support for the workers ahead of their union election, April 11; the election takes place after Wednesday Journal’s print deadline.

“I have no personal connection to the individual employees, but I will say that union organizing built the middle class in America,” said Straw. “I believe in the power of collective bargaining to improve working conditions, both at an individual location and more broadly.”

Starbucks baristas are leading a new labor movement. Locations across the country have begun unionization to demand better treatment from the global chain, which boasts an average wage of $17.50 per hour, as well as “competitive” medical, dental and vision insurance, among other benefits offered. The problem with working as a Starbucks barista, according to both Deming and Carelli, is not the benefits offered, but the inability to qualify for them. 

“They’re not staffing the store properly and we’re not getting enough hours to actually get those benefits,” Deming explained.

Carelli, who worked part-time, said she was promised about 20 to 25 hours a week when she was hired, but was scheduled for half that.

 As many as 260 stores have unionized, including Deming’s in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago and most recently one in Greektown. If enough employees of the 711 Lake St. Starbucks vote in favor of joining Starbucks Workers United, it’ll become the latest addition to that growing roster.

| Photo by Dave Peterson

This, Carelli believes, would be an unwelcome development to her former store manager, former district manager and the Starbucks corporation as a whole. When talks of unionizing first began, Carelli remembers each employee having a private meeting with the store manager and district manager. In those meetings, the superiors reportedly told their inferiors why they should not unionize. When Carelli asked questions during her meeting, she said she was snowballed.

Any such unfriendly attitude toward labor unions was disavowed by the corporate representative who spoke to Wednesday Journal.

“We respect the right of all partners to make their own decisions about union representation, and we are committed to engaging in good faith collective bargaining for each store where a union has been appropriately certified,” the corporate Starbucks representative said. 

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