Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz testifies about the company’s labor and union practices during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 29, 2023.
Sol Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
Starbucks fired Alexis Rizzo, the employee responsible for igniting the Starbucks Workers United campaign, just days after the company’s former CEO Howard Schultz testified at Capitol Hill about the coffee chain’s alleged union busting.
Rizzo worked as a shift supervisor at Starbucks for seven years and served as a union leader at the Genesee St. store. in Buffalo, New York, which was one of the first two stores in the country to win the union campaign.
Starbucks Workers United announced Rizzo’s termination in a tweet on Saturday and said on the corresponding GoFundMe page that “this is revenge at its worst.”
“I am absolutely devastated. It wasn’t just a job for me. It was like my family,” Rizzo said in an interview with CNBC. “It was like losing everything. I’ve been there since I was 17. It’s like my whole support system, and I think they knew that.”
Rizzo said her store managers fired her after she finished her shift on Friday. She said she was told she was late four times – two of which were instances where she was a minute late.
Starbucks told CNBC that Rizzo missed more than four hours of work over the course of these cases and that she was repeatedly issued tardiness notices.
Starbucks spokeswoman Rachel Wall said the separation at the company was only after clear policy violations. In this case, she said there were multiple attendance violations that affected other baristas at that store location.
“We appreciate that our partners at Genesee St. provided the Starbucks experience to each other and to our customers this morning, and that area stores continue to serve customers without interruption this weekend,” she said in a statement to CNBC.
Rizzo said she suspects she was let go as a result of Wednesday’s Senate hearing.
Schultz faced a barrage of tough questions from Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday about Starbucks’ labor and union practices. Sanders, an independent union representing Vermont, has been pressuring Starbucks for more than a year to recognize the union and negotiate contracts with unionized coffee shops.
Sanders chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which held the panel.
During the hearing, Sanders said Starbucks had engaged in “the most aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign in our country’s modern history.” He also accused the company of being late on collective bargaining agreements, betting that workers would quit and leave the coffee chain.
Schultz defended Starbucks’ approach to its negotiations, maintaining that dealing directly with workers was best for the company. He has also repeatedly denied the company ever violated federal labor law and said his focus during his time as interim CEO was 99 percent on operations, not on fighting the union.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two days after Howard Schultz hurt his ego the way he did, he started lashing out at Buffalo,” Rizzo said. She added that two other employees were also fired on Friday.
Nearly 300 Starbucks coffee shops have voted to unionize under Starbucks Workers United, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board. In total, the union has filed more than 500 unfair labor practice complaints related to Starbucks with the federal labor board. Starbucks has filed about 100 complaints of its own against the union. Judges found the company violated federal labor law 130 times.
None of the merged stores has yet signed a deal with Starbucks.
Rizzo said he is still “in shock” over the firing, but that he plans to fight for his position.
“We’re going to keep fighting to make things right,” she said. “I will fight to get my job back and be reinstated.”
— CNBC’s Amelia Lucas contributed to this report.