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Starbucks Reserve Roastery Workers in Chelsea End Weekslong Strike

Staff return to flagship Manhattan cafe after management pledges to clean ice machines weekly and agrees to a first union bargaining session.

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Starbucks workers gathered at City Hall Park to celebrate the anniversary of the campaign’s first union election victory, Dec. 9, 2022.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Baristas, bakers and bartenders at the swanky Starbucks Reserve Roastery flagship on Manhattan’s 9th Avenue ended a seven-week strike and returned to work on Monday, after securing an agreement that commits the coffee chain to regularly scrub equipment at outposts nationwide.

Workers had filed complaints about moldy ice machines as well as bedbugs. All three Starbucks Reserve Roastery stores, the company’s premium outlets, will now get their ice machines cleaned regularly by a vendor, the company pledged.

The workers went on strike Oct. 25 after confirmed bedbug sightings at the facility. The workers, who voted to join Starbucks Workers United in April, said their work stoppage would continue until management proved it got rid of the pests.

State Department of Agriculture inspectors visited the upscale cafe, where a drink can cost as much as $17, and found “mold like residues.” The state also identified moths in the coffee storage.

The workers decided to return to work after three meetings with Starbucks representatives and health and safety experts, reviewing “dozens” of inspection reports and a dog-led bedbug inspection that found the store free of pests, according to a statement from the union.

As part of the agreement, the company vowed to thoroughly clean the ice machines every week, not only at the Chelsea location, but at all flagship Roastery stores nationwide. Even after the inspectors’ visit, a company official denied that there had been mold in the ice machines, writing to the union: “There is no pest infestation or moldy ice at the Roastery — when the strike started or now — and we don’t understand why the union continues to assert falsely otherwise.”

In order to fix the bedbug issues, the company also agreed to cover the cost of home pest inspections at workers’ requests. 

Last week at City Hall Park, Starbucks workers gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the campaign’s first union election victory, Dec. 9, 2022.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Starbucks “admitted multiple times that there are gaps in training and communication that need to be and will be addressed,” according to a statement from the union about the agreement.

The two parties also agreed to a first bargaining session on Dec. 13, working toward what would be the first union-negotiated contract at any Starbucks. But success could be a long shot: In previous negotiations elsewhere in the U.S., Starbucks representatives have walked out of bargaining sessions after objecting to the union allowing workers to join in the sessions via Zoom.

“The work isn’t over. We need to continue to hold management accountable, and being back inside we will all do that as partners, together,” the Roastery workers’ statement read. “We are excited to return to work, but we recognize that our fight as a unionized store has just begun.”

In a statement to THE CITY, company spokesperson Andrew Trull said the company remains “committed” to collaborating with the workers.

“We are hopeful the collaborative spirit and good faith effort from all parties that resulted in the end of the strike defines the contract bargaining process for the New York Roastery,” he said. “We remain committed to working together, side-by-side, to ensure that Starbucks uplifts every partner, every day — and will continue to communicate openly and transparently about issues as they arise.”

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