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New York (WABNEWS Business) — Starbucks is planning to close 16 locations in various cities, citing safety concerns.
“After careful consideration, we are closing some stores in locations that have experienced a high volume of challenging incidents that make it unsafe to continue operating,” a spokesperson told WABNEWS Business in an email.RELATED
The stores are in Seattle; The Angels; Philadelphia; Washington, DC, and Portland, Oregon. They will close at the end of July.
The decision comes as Starbucks works to change the company’s culture under interim CEO Howard Schultz, and as employees across the country vote to unionize. In a letter sent Monday to employees, Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson , both senior vice president of US operations, discussed security in Starbucks stores.
Employees are “first-hand witnesses to the challenges facing our communities: personal safety, racism, lack of access to healthcare, the growing mental health crisis, the rise in drug use, etc. “They wrote, adding that “with stores in thousands of communities across the country, we know that these challenges can sometimes be replicated within our stores as well.”
Stroud and Nelson said they “read every incident report that comes in,” adding “there are a lot.”
To make workers feel safer in stores, the company is offering active shooter and other training, they wrote.
It’s also offering mental health benefits, access to abortion care, clarity around shifts and store policies, and more, the letter said. The company could also close restrooms to the public, overturning a 2018 policy.
In cases where it is unable to create a safe environment in a store, Starbucks will close it permanently, according to the letter. In those cases, the company will relocate employees to neighboring stores.
A new era for Starbucks
The moves are part of a broader effort to revamp the company, as outlined in a letter this Monday from Schultz.
“We have to reinvent Starbucks for the future,” he wrote, noting that the company must “radically” improve employee experiences. He added that based on employee feedback, the company will strive to create “safe, welcoming and friendly for our stores.”
Schultz took on the CEO role for the third time in April. In recent months he has been spending time with employees, listening to their concerns and gathering feedback. He has also been working to discourage workers from unionizing, asking workers to stay away from unions even before he formally returned to the company as CEO.
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But the unionization campaign has only grown.
As of June 24, the NLRB had certified unions at 133 Starbucks stores with more than 3,400 hourly employees between them, and certified anti-union decisions at 15 locations. Elections are taking place in dozens of other stores.
Even with workers’ votes in favor, unionized stores represent only a fraction of the roughly 9,000 company-operated Starbucks stores in the United States. But Starbucks has made it clear that it does not want employees to join a union and that it will not guarantee certain benefits to those who do.
In a tweet, Starbucks Workers United Seattle questioned whether the decision to close one of the Seattle locations was made in good faith. And in June, Starbucks workers at a store in Ithaca, New York, said their store was being closed in retaliation for their union activism. The workers’ committee then said it would file an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Starbucks was making a “clear attempt to scare workers across the country.”
As for those store closings, a company spokesman said at the time that Starbucks opens and closes stores as part of its normal operations, without offering specific reasons.
“Our local, regional and national leaders have been working with humility, deep care and urgency to create the kind of store environment that partners and customers have come to expect from Starbucks,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in June. “Our goal is to ensure that each partner is supported in their individual situation and we have immediate opportunities available in the market.”
During its most recent fiscal year, Starbucks closed 424 company-operated stores in the US, or about 5% of its total, while opening 449 new locations.
Chris Isidore and Ramishah Maruf of WABNEWS Business contributed to this report.