A 33-year-old who worked at Starbucks for 13 years was fired for a one-month violation. It led to a union walk and a viral video that amassed 21 million views on TikTok

Sam Amato has spent almost his entire working life at Starbucks.

For more than 13 years, he has served countless clients, digs into their lives, and even “watched their kids grow up,” says the former shift supervisor. . When a wave of labor activity go through Starbucks locations around the country, he joined as the lead organizer at the store he often worked at in Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo, New York, which has become one of the first in the country to unite.

On August 5, the 33-year-old was just getting ready for his shift at another Starbucks in the town of Tonawanda when the store manager pulled Amato out to talk and fired him for one month’s breach related to early store closures, a decision he said left him “blind”.

“I mean, it’s been 13 years. That’s how I get my paycheck. That’s how I got my insurance. That’s how I make a living,” said Amato Luck. “To get that from underneath you… it’s a devastating moment.”

But when he left the store that day, he wasn’t alone. All six employees who worked in the store with him at the time stepped out in support. Several Starbucks United union members and employees from other locations in the region joined them in what quickly became a massive viral TikTok. video with over 21 million views.

The caption on the video reads: “When your entire store goes out after management unjustly fired your co-worker for being a union leader.”

Starbucks denied that was the cause of Amato’s layoffs and said it enforces consistent standards for all employees.

The viral moment of the labor movement

Unions at Starbucks stores nationwide have grown from a historic vote last December. Workers at a store near Buffalo voted to form the first U.S. union in the chain’s 50-year history. Like 186 other locations also merged, the coffee giant has to face accusations retaliated and threatened the employees involved, which they denied.

In June, the National Labor Relations Board submit A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Buffalo alleges Starbucks uses what the agency calls “an extensive array of illegal tactics.”

Starbucks has denied the allegations. “As we have said before, we believe these claims are false and will prepare to defend our case,” it said. told the media at the time.

According to Casey Moore, the 25-year-old bartender who took the video, the group outing in Tonawanda that went viral last week was the most exposure a union activism at Starbucks received to date. Moore works at another store near Buffalo, and joins the Tonawanda walk as an organizer. She also helps run the union’s TikTok account and shares three videos of the walk that have reached over 30 million views on TikTok.

She posted the most viral video on TikTok while traveling to South Carolina, where another store alliance effort is in progress.

“This one absolutely blew up,” Moore said. “I put my phone on airplane mode, then I turned it on and I said, ‘Oh my god! “

The bartender said she believes Starbucks’ reputation for embracing liberal values ​​is why the video caught the public’s attention.

“People care because this is a company that says it’s always improving,” says Moore. “They say they are a progressive company that cares about their workers, and I think people are in shock.”

The scene at Starbucks in Tonawanda

Amato and Starbucks United workers believe he was fired because of his union organization.

He said he was “very active” with labor activism in July, filing an ethics complaint against the manager who later fired him and helped lead to a one-year strike. days for his Starbucks. Amato said he continued to be outspoken when discussing Starbucks’ “insufficient health insurance” in a video clip. interview with More perfect union, a progressive media, last month.

With the addition of Amato, Starbucks has so far laid off nine union leaders in the Buffalo area and more than 75 pro-union workers in the US, according to Starbucks worker United. The union said it had filed an unfair labor practice charge on Amato’s behalf against the company.

Starbucks declined to comment on Luck union complaints, and allegations of unfair labor practices involving Amato.

Sign in favor of Sam Amato, fired Starbucks employee.

Sam Amato

Amato’s contract termination notice, which he shared with Luck, which was caused because he “closed the cafe during normal business hours without notifying” the store or district manager. It also noted that Starbucks issued a pre-warning to Amato in August 2021, though it did not specify what that warning was. Amato said it was a “completely unrelated” communication issue.

Starbucks told Luck that the reason for Amato’s termination was a violation of store policy, namely failure to follow the closure policy after receiving a final written warning.

Amato objected to this, saying that he had not made the decision to delay the business day in the short term. Another shift supervisor did when a “severely understaffed” team of three bartenders was overwhelmed during the busy weekend of July 4, and then told management he was not responsible. duty. A Starbucks spokesperson said store management held Amato accountable for the decision to close.

Moore told Luck Store closures are becoming more and more common practice, rather than a fireable offense, like not enough people a lot with the pandemic and the ongoing Starbucks consolidation dynamics.

“We were so understaffed that we had permission from both senior management and executives to tell us as shift supervisors to close the hallways if we can’t run the floor,” she said.

A Starbucks spokesperson said no exceptions were made for partners, the term the company uses for its employees.

“Partners can close the corridor, but they still need management approval. A partner cannot close the lobby without prior approval on a case-by-case basis,” the spokesperson said, referring to what Starbucks calls a shift to driver-only or mobile phone orders. “That was not done in this situation. This particular partner has decided that the lobby will be closed. “

Since he was fired, Amato and other workers have repeatedly come outside the Tonawanda store, carrying signs and posters on the door with the message “Rehire Sam!”

Courtesy of Starbucks Workers United

The store was closed at the beginning of the week, CBS report. A Starbucks spokesperson told Luck on Thursday that it is currently open.

Moore said Amato’s decades-long relationship with Starbucks baristas in the area was the cause of the continued strike at the Tonawanda store.

“Sam is essentially an organization here,” she said. “There’s a lot of overlap in terms of people picking up shifts across the county, so everyone knows Sam if you’re a Starbucks employee in the Buffalo area.”

Amato said he doesn’t have much time to think about his next job.

“I have heard a lot from former customers and partners,” he said. “That’s what I really miss — seeing all of those people every day.”

“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and get to know them. Starbucks can take away my salary, insurance money and everything else,” Amato added. “But they can’t take away the relationships I’ve built.”

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