Starbucks fired a long-time barista and outspoken union organizer in Buffalo on Friday for being less than half an hour late to work several days earlier due to car troubles.
“Respectfully, this wouldn’t be happening if wasn’t part of the organizing committee,” Danny Rojas tells their manager in a video of the firing obtained by More Perfect Union. “There are other partners who are late, other partners who are not in dress code, other partners who are not following standards, partners who are misgendering me at work.”
Rojas is the second pro-union Starbucks employee to be fired in recent weeks in Buffalo, where employees organized the company’s first U.S. unions. Workers at unionizing stores nationwide say that Starbucks management has been cutting their hours at unprecedented rates, costing them their benefits and often their jobs.
Rojas, a shift supervisor who worked for Starbucks for three and a half years before being fired, had spent more than a year asking to be transferred to another store closer to their home. The Elmwood store, which became the first Starbucks to certify a union in December, is only six minutes from Rojas’s home, while the Sheridan and North Bailey location, where they worked, was a half-hour away.
The transfer request was regularly denied, and instead, Starbucks in February unilaterally changed Rojas’s schedule, assigning them a store-opening 5:30 am shift. Because Rojas also works a regular closing shift at a Trader Joe’s grocery store and returns home after midnight most evenings, Starbucks’ change left them little time for sleep in between jobs.
In February, Rojas spoke for a BuzzFeed story about experiencing gender dysmorphia and depression and how the Silicon Valley-based mental health app offered by the company had made it worse.
On March 2nd, Rojas was 26 minutes late to the 5:30 am shift, owing to difficulties with their car. Rojas says that they were making great pains to avoid being late going forward, but did not get the opportunity to prove it.
“On Thursday night I set an alarm for very early, slept for two hours, drove to the store, slept in the Starbucks parking lot for an hour, and then walked in for my shift, where I was fired,” Rojas said.
During the firing, the manager references a “final” disciplinary warning given to Rojas in March 2021, for “not living up to the company’s values.” That warning, Rojas says, was for telling co-workers that they could not wait to get their degree and be able to leave the company.
“Danny Rojas is no longer with Starbucks for violating policies regarding unwelcoming behavior towards other partners (employees) and for excessive and repeated infractions of our attendance policy,” the company said in a statement to More Perfect Union. “Leaders spoke with Danny about both the behavior and the unacceptable attendance violations and it was made clear that this repeated behavior could result in termination.”
In January, as the store was gearing up to vote on whether to unionize, Starbucks management held a “memorialized coaching conversation” with Rojas after snow plows blocked their driveway and forced them to be 20 minutes late for a 7:30 am shift. Rojas texted management to say that they’d be late.
“I was not afraid to speak out and get support for what I needed or what people at the store level needed, and I felt like the union was a good way for partners to have a voice and make the workplace more democratic,” Rojas explains to More Perfect Union. “No one ever tried to help me or listen to me or change the things that were wrong in my store before, which was very frustrating. So when the union began, that was the first hope I’ve felt as someone who is working class.”
The Sheridan and North Bailey store voted on whether to unionize last month; members are now waiting on the NLRB to schedule ballot counting after it ruled against Starbucks’ objections to the election on Monday. Starbucks has flooded the Buffalo market with new workers since the first stores went public with their plans to unionize in September, leading to cut hours for many existing employees.
Leaders of the union’s organizing and bargaining committees say they have been consistently targeted with these cuts and schedule changes, including Cassie Fleischer, who was fired in mid-February after getting a second job to compensate for loss in income from reduced hours.
“I’m going to continue supporting organizing workers at Starbucks nationwide and want to provide positive reinforcement and show partners that what they’re doing is not okay,” Rojas says. If we were unionized, Starbucks would have a much more difficult time firing me than they did.”