Workers at a Starbucks-Amazon Go convenience store near Times Square filed a petition for a union election Friday — and one worker told THE CITY that supporters are already feeling the heat from management, receiving threats of write-ups and citations for coming to work in pro-union T-shirts.
The Eighth Avenue location, which is staffed entirely by Starbucks workers, is a cafe that features a cashier-less Amazon Go convenience store, a concept that the retail behemoth debuted in 2018 promising a “Just Walk Out” shopping experience free of checkout lines.
But baristas who spoke with THE CITY say the arrangement makes it so that they’re essentially working two different jobs for the price of one — running inventory and stocking shelves for the Amazon Go store, while prepping drink orders and running the cash register at the Starbucks counter.
“We’re overworked and underpaid,” said one worker, asked to be identified only as U.U. due to fear of retaliation. “We’re doing multiple different jobs for the same amount of wages as any other Starbucks worker. And that’s nonsense.”
With Starbucks and Amazon in one location, the arrangement has thrust the staff into the nexus of two of the nation’s highest-profile labor battles.
Starbucks barista Hal Battjes was transferred from a Rockefeller Center coffee shop to the then-forthcoming Amazon Go joint venture in the summer — not knowing that they would work at both stores.
“I was like, ‘Oh, great, now I am at the epicenter of two anti-worker, anti-union corporations,’” Battjes said.
The workers filed their petition with Starbucks Workers United, which has successfully organized nearly 6,500 workers in 243 locations across the nation since December 2021, when a Starbucks in Buffalo became the first store to win a union election in the country.
“We are listening and learning from partners in these stores as we always do across the country. From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.
Trouble Over T-Shirts
Battjes said Starbucks managers began threatening pro-union workers almost immediately after the Friday morning filing.
That day, Battjes and co-workers showed up in shirts emblazoned with the Starbucks Workers United union logo — an action protected by the National Labor Relations Act, but which Starbucks has said is against the dress code prohibiting non-company logos and slogans.
“Even though my graphic tee was entirely covered by my Starbucks apron, I was told ‘don’t wear that again, or we’re going to send you home,’” Battjes said.
The high-traffic location on the ground floor of The New York Times building, across the street from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, first opened its doors to customers in July. It promised mobile-ordering “effortless convenience” for drink pick-ups, along with the contactless Amazon Go market, which has snacks, juices and prepared foods for sale, and a dining lounge.
Baristas who spoke with THE CITY say the arrangement is anything but effortless. They serve as both coffee makers and concierges helping customers who don’t understand how the grab-and-go Amazon store works.
The Starbucks counter, which workers say was designed with a preference for mobile orders, has only one cash register, which regularly has lines out the door.
Battjes, who works the opening shift, said their everyday duties require both front- and back-of-the-house work that includes prepping the kitchen and drink counter for the morning coffee rush and running inventory support for the Amazon Go store. That means everything from receiving packages that were delivered overnight, to scanning each item individually and stocking the shelves, to heating up and arranging the meals as the day wears on.
“It’s a horrible setup. It’s very confusing and difficult to explain to people, especially when there’s a language barrier or cultural barrier,” Battjes said, referring to the tourists who frequent the store. “And it’s also really frustrating for the customers, which then a lot of times they take out on us.”
Workers received training from Amazon without additional pay, said baristas who spoke with THE CITY.
“As soon as I got there, I started piecing the pieces together that, like, Amazon is not really paying us like that. Like we’re not really getting any type of benefit” for the double duty, said the worker who only wanted to be identified as U.U., and had previously worked at a Starbucks in Rochester that voted to unionize this year.
“I remember just one day I was talking to one of the security guards and I was like ‘Yo, this is some bullshit. Hold on a sec. Like they got me working for Amazon, and I ain’t seeing no perks or anything for it.’ They just got us doing this. It ain’t right.”
Some workers, including Battjes, said they were involuntarily relocated from Starbucks elsewhere in the city to the joint Amazon Go venture ahead of its debut this summer — with no warning about the extra duties.
“It really comes across as like, we’re just a bunch of sheep that they send off to whatever store might need it,” they said.
The joint venture marks the second time the two Seattle-based giants collaborated on a store together: The first debuted in east Midtown last November.
More than 20 workers at the Times Square store have signed on to support the union, Battjes told THE CITY, out of the nearly 30 who staff it.