Three weeks after hourly workers at the 7700 Maple Street Starbucks in New Orleans filed for union recognition, the worker who helped lead the effort has been fired, they said an Instagram post this week.
Billie Nyx, a shift supervisor who has worked at the University-area Starbucks for a total of three years, says the coffee giant attributed the firing to Nyx’s decision to close early during Jazz Fest when the store was understaffed. Nyx says they were asked to close with just two people on the busier-than-average weekend evening, and that because they were the highest form of management present in the store at the time, “I felt like it was my decision to make and I did so out of concern for not just myself but my partners as well,” they said. Nyx calls the firing a “deliberate and strategic move” made by Starbucks — one that occurred two weeks before the store’s union vote.
Reached for comment, a Starbucks spokesperson wrote that Nyx, whom they referred to by a non-preferred name, was fired “for closing our location early without business justification and against the direct instructions of two store managers.” Nyx disputes that characterization; telling Eater that deciding to open late or close early is a practice that has occurred throughout the district in recent months due to staff shortages. “I know that at my store, we’ve opened late before and that they’ve closed early before in other stores in our district,” decisions that have not, to their knowledge, resulted in other firings, Nyx says.
As to why it is a fireable offense, the spokesperson said Starbucks expects shift supervisors to “take seriously our commitment to creating the ‘Starbucks Experience’ for customers and partners” and that workers are aware that “failing to uphold these standards” can result in their firing. Finally, in regards to the store’s unionization effort, the spokesperson said that “Any claims of anti-union activity are categorically false.”
In late April, 10 out of 16 “partners” at the Maple Street Starbucks signed a petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board seeking union recognition, the first Starbucks in Louisiana to do so. Ironically, a primary point behind the unionizing was hours security — issues like minimum staff schedules and clear policies around labor cutting. Essentially, protections against management cutting hours as they see fit, without a minimum guarantee of staff onsite at a given time. Nyx told Eater the company cut worker hours right before Mardi Gras, and that “We were so busy and understaffed” — a problem that seems to have repeated itself during Jazz Fest.
Nyx says that on the day in question — Sunday, May 1, one of the last days of Jazz Fest — they closed the store three hours early when workers on site became unable to keep up with orders. “I called my manager around 1:30 p.m. to let them know what was going on — originally I wasn’t going to close the store early, just close down the delivery orders — one of the neighboring stores had turned off their delivery, so they were all routing to us,” Nyx says. Eventually, after being reprimanded by a different store’s manager for shutting off delivery orders, Nyx decided to close the store at 5 p.m., after telling the district manager by phone they needed help or would do so.
“In a way I kind of expected it,” Nyx says. “I’ve been the most vocal, outspoken union organizer and have been the person airing my grievances to management directly. If another shift lead in our store had done what I did, I can’t imagine that they would have been fired for it,” says Nyx.
Nyx has also been helping baristas in other stores in the city and state who are either in the process of organizing or have enough interested employees to begin the process, something that was noted in initial coverage of the store’s union push. That activity, in addition to their general outspokenness about the effort and reasoning behind unionizing, has made Nyx a target, they say.
The first-ever Starbucks store voted to unionize in Buffalo, New York in December 2021, setting off a nationwide movement; since then, more than 250 petitions for a union vote have been filed by Starbucks workers, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Also since then, Starbucks has fired more than 20 workers from its shops, all union organizers, according to a report in the Guardian. In February, Starbucks fired seven baristas in Memphis, Tennessee, which the company said was in response to violations of company “safety and security” policies. All seven of the fired baristas were involved in organizing a union at their store.
The Maple Street store’s union vote is scheduled for June 3 and 4, at which point at least 30 percent of the store’s workers will have to vote in favor of unionization in order to be recognized by the NLRB. Nyx, who is in the process of filing an unfair labor practices charge, will not be able to vote unless they are reinstated by then.
“If you go into Starbucks on Maple, I ask that you make it known that you disapprove of the action that Starbucks took today,” Nyx says. “And tip the workers because they’ll have a lot of extra work now that I’m gone.”