A clip of New York Starbucks workers walking off the job to protest the firing of a fellow employee believed to have been targeted for union organizing has now been viewed nearly 20 million times on the popular video platform TikTok, bringing greater public visibility to the coffee giant's aggressive attempts to beat back a movement that has spread nationwide.
Sam Amato was fired from a Buffalo-area store last week after working for Starbucks for more than 13 years. The location, whose employees voted to unionize in March, has been closed since the Friday walkout as workers strike to demand Amato's reinstatement.
Michael Sainato reported for The Guardian on Thursday that months after they voted to unionize, "Amato and his co-workers were transferred to different stores while their own store underwent remodeling, where he said workers were heavily scrutinized by the store manager through disciplinary actions and write-ups."
While Starbucks claims Amato was terminated for closing his store's lobby without permission, Starbucks Workers United says that's a ruse to disguise the deliberate firing of a union leader. Amato says he didn't make the decision to close the lobby.
"This is the week of my thirteenth anniversary at Starbucks and I was fired," Amato told a local media outlet. "I was fired because I was a union leader at my store. My manager couldn't even explain to me why they were firing me. She couldn't look me in the eye."
Amato is one of dozens of union leaders that Starbucks has fired in recent months as the organizing wave continues, expanding to more than 200 locations across the U.S. even as management terminates employees, shutters entire stores, and threatens to deny new wage increases and benefits to organized workers.
In South Carolina, a Starbucks store manager recently went as far as accusing unionized workers of "kidnapping and assault" after they laid out a list of demands during a meeting.
"I cannot believe I have to say this, but workers who are organizing for better working conditions should not have to deal with their boss accusing them of kidnapping and assault. How outrageous," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "This campaign of rampant union-busting from Starbucks has got to end."
According to a tally by More Perfect Union, a progressive media outlet, "Starbucks has now illegally fired at least 70 pro-union workers since February."
"Overall," More Perfect Union notes, "members and supporters have been fired in at least 20 states."