DCWP files suit against Starbucks 1

Austin Locke, above, was fired from the Starbucks on Ditmars Boulevard after he led the store’s unionization effort earlier this summer. A rally organized in support of him in July was widely attended.

The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection filed a lawsuit Friday against the Starbucks Corp. in response to the firing of Austin Locke from the company’s Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard location days after he led store employees in a successful unionization push in July.

The suit, which was filed with the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, specifically alleges that Starbucks violated the city’s Fair Workweek Law, which says that fast-food employees cannot be fired without just cause.

The DCWP came to that conclusion through an investigation into Locke’s firing. That was prompted by a complaint which, with the help of Workers United, the union representing the Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard store, Locke himself filed with the agency in July.

The suit aims to get Locke reinstated and to have Starbucks pay him back pay and other compensation for work lost. The company would also be required to pay civil penalties, as the Fair Workweek Law stipulates.

Whether those things will be accomplished will be determined by OATH when the case goes to trial. A trial date has not yet been set.

Asked about the case, a Starbucks spokesperson wrote in an email to the Chronicle, “We do not comment on pending litigation. However, we do intend to defend against the alleged violations of the New York City Just Cause Law.”

The lawsuit, Locke’s firing and the Ditmars Boulevard store’s unionization come less than a year after a Buffalo, NY, Starbucks became the first in the nation to unionize. Since then, more than 200 other stores have done so successfully, including the company’s Astoria Boulevard location, the first in Queens. The company has not met with Workers United to negotiate a contract, however.

Locke is not the only Starbucks employee to allegedly be fired in relation to union activity. Seven employees at a Memphis, Tenn., location were fired after they took part in an in-store interview about their union efforts earlier this year. In August, a judge ordered the company to reinstate them.

That was far from lost on Locke.

“I’m happy that I’m getting, you know, some traction in the legal case for my reinstatement,” he told the Chronicle, “But I’m more worried about the almost 100 other Starbucks workers that have been illegally fired by Starbucks.”