ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca’s City Administration Committee forwarded the city’s most significant action on labor issues related to local Starbucks unions yet on Wednesday: a resolution condemning the corporation’s closure of the college town location. The resolution will now be considered by Common Council with the potential for more action in its wake.
The Tompkins County Legislature had previously considered such an action, but ultimately declined on Tuesday to get too deeply involved. Those sentiments were present on Wednesday at the city’s committee meeting, but after some tweaking, the resolution did pass with just one opposing vote.
You can watch the full meeting here, or check out the meeting’s agenda here. To briefly recount the local Starbucks situation: two months after winning three separate unionization votes, making Ithaca the first municipality with a fully unionized Starbucks workforce, the company announced the abrupt closure of its Collegetown location, evoking accusations of union-busting from workers and residents alike.
The initial resolution that was introduced — very similar to the one discussed by the Tompkins County Legislature that was rejected earlier this week — stated that Common Council “condemns in the sharpest terms Starbucks’ virulent and brutal anti-union attacks” on workers, as well as a demand that Starbucks sign the Fair Elections Principles and “calls upon” Starbucks to reopen the Collegetown location and stop union-busting. Alderperson Jorge DeFendini, who introduced it, said he had created the bill with input from Starbucks union workers, many of whom are his constituents in the Fourth Ward, but was willing to edit certain portions of the language.
Alderperson Cynthia Brock, while not actually a voting member of the committee, opened the discussion by drawing a parallel between Starbucks’ actions with the Collegetown location and its conduct toward Buffalo stores, a similar situation that Brock said demonstrated retaliatory firings and union-busting. She said she understood that calling out Starbucks directly and urging the reopening Collegetown would go further towards helping the workers who are out of jobs now, but said she preferred a “direct communication and action” between Common Council and the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees dynamics between unions and management nationwide.
“I also recognize that only through reopening the Starbucks and Collegetown will the employees be able to retain all that they’ve accomplished,” Brock said. “So I do recognize the desire to include that by the individuals who have been impacted. But I think communication with the NLRB would be pointed, effective, and express what we hope to express to Starbucks and others.”
Alderperson Jeffrey Barken followed asking if anyone had determined whether or not it is actually feasible to demand that Starbucks reopen its Collegetown location. DeFendini said he was under the impression, from union members, that it was.
Barken and Acting Mayor Laura Lewis—also not a voting member of the CA committee, but attending the meeting—emerged as the two voices in the room with the most trepidation to advancing a resolution, preferring instead that city officials write a letter, either to the NLRB or Starbucks, outlining the expressed concerns.
Their issues stemmed largely from questions about government getting involved in a union-management situation in a private business—nearly the same concerns that derailed the similar resolution in the Tompkins County Legislature.
“If we all agree, and as I hope many of us do, that this is an act of union-busting and union retaliation, then this isn’t about the city weighing in and demanding that a business stay open or closed, but it’s that the law be followed, and that we are making sure that no one is violating this law,” DeFendini responded.
Fellow members George McGonigal and Ducson Nguyen both expressed support for the resolution, though McGonigal later asked for some language changes that were accepted by DeFendini, though they were quite minor.
The resolution passed 4-1 and will be considered at the July Common Council meeting.