ITHACA, N.Y.—Just over a year after workers at Ithaca’s three Starbucks locations celebrated a successful unionization vote, the company has announced it will close the last two of those locations in Ithaca by May 26, 2023. The company insisted the move is not retaliation for unionizing.

Workers said they were informed Friday of the decision via their district manager, which was confirmed to The Ithaca Voice by Starbucks officials. The location on College Avenue in Collegetown controversially closed last year; this move would spell the end for the locations on East Seneca Street in downtown Ithaca and South Meadow Street as well. It does not impact the small location in the Barnes & Noble nearby since that is not a corporate store.

This follows a tumultuous year for Starbucks in Ithaca. There have been several protests held in Ithaca around the treatment of Starbucks workers, as well as picket lines in front of the East Seneca Street Starbucks when union workers called for a city-wide boycott. Most recently, Huffington Post ran a revelatory story earlier this week that showed Starbucks’ leadership conversations about the Collegetown location before closing it.

Starbucks Workers United, the union representing the baristas, has already filed unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks over the closings, according to Jaz Brisack, the organizing director for Workers United. The closings, Brisack claimed, are continued retaliation for unionization and represents the most “scorched earth” escalation tactic that the company has taken yet to deal with unionization.

“The union seeks injunctive relief […] to prevent irreparable destruction of employee rights resulting from Starbucks’ unlawful conduct,” reads the letter accompanying the charges. “Ithaca was the first city in the United States with 100 percent unionized Starbucks locations, after the union won elections at all three locations by a combined total of 47-3 on April 8, 2022. On May 27, 2023, Ithaca will have no Starbucks locations due to the Employer’s heinous conduct in response to the union campaign.”

Brisack said even with the injunction filed in federal court (which would legally prevent the closings) and the labor charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board, those cases will likely not be adjudicated before May 26, meaning the workers will be out of jobs. While the Collegetown location was ordered to be reopened late last year by the National Labor Relations Board, a timeline for that is unclear.

A Starbucks official maintained that the closings were not the result of the unionizations, but considering the tension between Starbucks and local workers since that vote, that will very likely be the dominant perception. Staffing, worker turnover, inability to retain management and worker absence were all blamed for the closure by Starbucks officials.

(Photo by Casey Martin)

Corporate Communications Director Rachel Wall directed The Ithaca Voice to a statement made by the company’s executive VP Sara Trilling, which said that the company’s current business strategy is to “open, close and evolve our stores as we assess, reposition and strengthen our store portfolio.”

The two Ithaca locations were told Friday they would close along with 16 others around the country, though Starbucks officials claimed that of the stores closed, the majority were not unionized. Brisack drew a connection between the Ithaca closings and the release of the Huffington Post story—which focused on corporate retaliation.

The union’s filing states this is a repeat of the process that took place with the College Avenue location, when workers, despite having already unionized, were not given the opportunity to negotiate with Starbucks over the decision to close the store and it was closed with little notification. While workers in that instance were at least nominally told they could transfer to other Ithaca locations to keep their jobs, that has not been offered this time.

“Starbucks is targeting me and my coworkers because we are a militant city of workers who joined together to form a union because we wanted better,” said Evan Sunshine, one of the union’s most vocal figures locally. “I’m hurt because I put everything into this campaign, it became my life. Starbucks took away my passion from me, from all of the workers in Ithaca. But we’ll stay strong and stick together, supporting each other through this. Just like before, we will find a way to persevere. It’s not over yet, and we won’t go down without a fight.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief at The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at