She was 17, working as a barista, and living in her car.
Days before her high school graduation, Starbucks fired Katie for union organizing. Her plans for a new apartment & college were put on hold.
Now, thanks to a new federal labor rule, Starbucks may have to pay her tens of thousands of dollars.
Katie McCoy: This is Sheila. Sheila is a little Jetta. You’ve gotten me through a lot. I stayed in this car periodically while I was kind of struggling with some housing.
When it’s really cold in Washington, staying in your car is not fun. And I remember not being able to sleep one night before my opening shift, which we opened at 4:30 in the morning. And I’m just like in my car shivering and with a little like butterfly blanket.
Starbucks…they knew the housing situation. And they still fired me. After being fired and not having secure housing, it was a lot to figure out at freshly 18.
Starbucks has fired 200+ workers like Katie for unionizing. A new National Labor Relations Board ruling could help them get justice.
James Schenk: So end of August, I was on a medical leave of absence when I received a phone call from my district manager notifying me that I was terminated from the company immediately for opening a piece of mail. Within the day we filed a ULP for unlawful termination in response to union activity.
Joselyn Chuquillanqui: So on July 5th I went to open the store as I normally do, and I realized they didn’t have my key. I immediately told my manager and we were able to open the store after a while and then I ended up grabbing a spare key. And on July 27th, I was fired for something that normally isn’t that big of a deal.
Katie McCoy: I was cornered by management in the back room by my store manager over things like dress code, things that they would not do that they weren’t writing me up for just having these verbal coaching conversations. Mind you, I was just wearing union pins.
I had never gotten disciplined from—while working there. I actually had received Partner of the Quarter twice while working there in the year that I worked there.
[Videographer in-scene]: What is it?
[James Schenk in-scene]: Partner of the Quarter. You know what it is for excellent service, above and beyond, the ‘call of the siren.’
James Schenk: I was pissed man. For sure, I was mad. What’s more unjust than getting fired for a federally protected activity? Right?
Joselyn Chuquillanqui: I had done this union drive to make the lives of my coworkers better. And they took this and spun it around and made it seem like I was trying to create this very toxic environment. It was a toxic environment towards the end. But it was not created by me. It was created by management. And on top of that they tried to fight me for unemployment.
In December, the NLRB ruled that employers must fully compensate workers who were illegally fired for unionizing. Workers can now recoup the cost of lost wages, medical bills, credit card debt, and other financial harm suffered from the termination.
Katie McCoy: In material goods, they have cost me a incredible amount.
James Schenk: I completely emptied my savings just for money to live on. The 401k and like looking forward to retirement is one of those things that my dad has like taught me from day one and has always made very important.
I had to cash that. It was like a somewhere between 3 to $4000 penalty to cash that. And I’m now using that to live on. So I wiped out $2500 in savings, lost between a quarter and a third of my 401k, and have already used about a quarter of what I actually did get back of the 401k.
Joselyn Chuquillanqui: I go to Arizona State University, which was previously paid by Starbucks for me, and when I got fired, they are no longer paying for it. I’m not even sure if I’m going to be able to finish.
Katie McCoy: You know I had just graduated high school, I had graduated with honors in high school. And I had plans to go to UW. Unfortunately, because I was fired and had to figure out my housing situation and everything, I had to put college kind of on the back burner and still haven’t been able to go back. I had to find an apartment that fit my budget more. I am dealing with chipping lead paint in my apartment and mold and I’ve been without hot water now for ten days.
James Schenk: Obviously without a job you can’t renew, you can’t renew a lease. So I lost that place once my lease was up. You know, without like proof of income or anything like that, it’s really difficult to find somebody that will actually sign a lease. So I got denied by a bunch of different places while I was looking for apartments.
Katie McCoy: When you’re fired from Starbucks for union organizing and being like I was the main organizer at my store and when you’re fired for something like that, they basically blacklist you from hiring. Like, I could not get a job at any of the coffee places I was looking at.
Joselyn Chuquillanqui: it does not end after you’re fired. There is there is always more because Starbucks just won’t stop. They even after you’re fired, they want to make sure that your voice is as diluted as possible. Recently when they took me to to an employment hearing, I had to miss an hour of work to go to that hearing, only to find out that Starbucks was not coming and they just wanted to waste my time.
James Schenk: We’re over 100 people that have been fired now—all going through a very similar or worse situation than I am. Thankfully there’s a worker’s relief fund through that’s like working with Starbucks Workers United that was able to give me a stipend that enabled me to put first and last down on this apartment
Katie McCoy: The Starbucks union has given me a like national support system that I never had growing up. I felt like they have given me an actual family I would not be able to keep doing what I am doing every single day if I did not have that. And I know that’s the case for a lot of organizers in this movement.
Katie, James and Joselyn are fighting Starbucks in court to receive compensation for damages and get their jobs back.
James Schenk: I don’t really have like another job plan. I mean, I would like to go back to working at Starbucks. I would be happy beyond words just to get like what I feel like I’m rightfully owed, which is like what I have been denied the ability to earn.
Joselyn Chuquillanqui: In a way, I guess being fired from Starbucks is like a double-edged sword. It did create a lot of, I guess, just like, inner turmoil, a lot of anxiety. It created financial instability. On the other hand, it has also made me, I guess, more confident in a way. I’m still, I guess, a very anxious person. But, um, it has made me more willing to speak out.
Katie McCoy: I’m looking at reinstatement for Starbucks and once I’m reinstated, I will be working two jobs in hopes that I can get enough money saved up to go to college. I’m going to work my ass off in college. And I’m going to become a labor and employment attorney. That is my goal and I’m incredibly passionate about it. To make sure this doesn’t happen again. Because it’s not fair.
You’re fired for something that like, the reason I did all this was not to be a malicious, like, menace, bad kid that Starbucks is trying to make me out to be right. Like, the reason I did this was because I cared about people, and I wanted people to not have to suffer every day to get by.
And if I can recognize that at 17, 18, why aren’t these 40-plus-year-olds who are firing me? Like, why can’t they see that? Why do I have to make them see that?
These are people’s livelihoods that they’re destroying. And if a 17 or 18-year-old can see that and a 40-plus-year-old can’t, there is something wrong. Very wrong.