The workers said their anxiety was exacerbated by the sudden appearance of new directors and managers of the company from out of town.
In a video of a meeting in September, a district manager in Arizona tells his colleagues that the company has asked him to spend time in Buffalo for the next 90 days. “There is a huge task force out there trying to fix the problem because if Buffalo, NY is unionized, it will be the first market in Starbucks history,” the district manager says in the video, provided by someone at the meeting and seen by The New York Times. When someone asks if the task force is a “last ditch effort to try to stop it”, the district director replies, “Yes, we are going to save it”.
Will Westlake, a barista in a Buffalo suburb called Hamburg, where workers have also filed for a union election, said a store newspaper showed several company officials from outside the area of Buffalo had visited the store in the past six weeks. At least seven visits from Rossann Williams, Starbucks President of Retail North America, have been included.
Officials sometimes work on laptops in front of baristas, sometimes join them behind the bar to work and learn about the store, and sometimes perform menial tasks like cleaning the bathroom, Mr Westlake said. He said many of his colleagues felt intimidated by these officials and found Ms Williams’ presence “surreal”.
Starbucks said many of the managers were regional leaders and coaches who were helping solve operational issues and reshaping stores, and were part of a company-wide effort dating back to May, when Covid-19 infection rates have declined and stores across the country have become busier.
“The upturn in business came so quickly that we weren’t prepared,” Ms. Williams said in an interview.