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New Orleans Starbucks fires supervisor leading store’s unionizing effort

Billie Nyx, a former shift supervisor at the Maple Street Starbucks in New Orleans, stands outside the coffee shop.
Stephan Bisaha/Gulf States Newsroom
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Billie Nyx, a former shift supervisor at the Maple Street Starbucks in New Orleans, stands outside the coffee shop on May 18, 2022. Starbucks Media Relations said Nyx was fired because they closed the shop early without permission during the recent New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival weekend. Nyx believes the move was "a deliberate and strategic move" made a couple of weeks away from the store's employees voting on unionizing — which Nyx helped organize.

The head organizer of a union campaign at a New Orleans Starbucks was fired Tuesday, and they believe it’s — at least in part — due to their unionizing efforts.

Billie Nyx, a shift supervisor at the Starbucks at 7700 Maple St in New Orleans' Carrollton neighborhood, said in an Instagram post they closed the store early during the recent New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival weekend. Nyx said they made that decision because the store was understaffed at the time. But, then they were fired for it.

It’s the latest in a string of union organizers being fired from their stores amid rising support for unions across the country. Nyx spoke publicly about their efforts in a recent roundtable with other Starbucks workers for the Gulf States Newsroom.

“Being that I was 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,” Nyx wrote in their post.

Nyx, however, believes they were fired due to the union campaign.

“This was a deliberate and strategic move made by Starbucks,” Nyx continued. “It’s not lost on me that this happened only 2 weeks before our union vote.”

The National Labor Relations Board received a petition for a union election at the store in April. Though, it’s not clear if an official election date has been set because no notice of election has been added to the case. Nyx said their lawyer told them the election will be held in early June.

Without a job, Nyx worries about how they’ll cover their bills. They said Step Up Louisiana, a nonprofit aimed at organizing around economic and education justice, offered to pay Nyx’s rent if needed.

Nyx and other workers at the Maple Street store said they became interested in unionizing because they’re regularly understaffed and frustrated with how the company handled COVID restrictions. Successful union campaigns at other Starbucks stores also inspired the New Orleans workers.

In December, a Starbucks in Buffalo became the company’s first unionized store in the U.S. Since then, more than 200 stores across the country filed for their own union elections.

But Starbucks has pushed back against the unions. The company announced earlier this month that it would offer expanded training, sick leave and other benefits, but only at stores where workers are not unionizing. Federal labor officials recently accused Starbucks of violating labor law, including firing workers hoping to unionize.

Starbucks Union Organizers
Photo courtesy of Billie Nyx
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New Orleans Starbucks union organizer Billie Nyx, right, said they were fired from their job as a shift supervisor on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Nyx was told it was because they closed the store at 7700 Maple St. early during the recent New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival weekend, but they believe it was because of their unionizing efforts. In this file photo, Nyx is pictured with Caitlyn Pierce, who helped them organize the Maple Street Starbucks union, and Kyle McGucken, who is doing the same at a Starbucks store in Birmingham.

During the roundtable with other pro-union Starbucks workers in the South, Nyx said they felt pressured by upper management for being outspoken.

“It really feels like gaslighting,” Nyx said.” It feels like the pressure is mounting to push me out of this position.”

A shift supervisor at the Maple Street store would not comment when asked about Nyx being fired. But, Starbucks Media Relations wrote in an email that Nyx was fired because they closed the store “early without business justification and against the direct instructions of two store managers.”

The email also said that a Starbucks employee’s interest in union representation “does not exempt them from the standards we’ve put in place to protect partners, customers and the communities that we serve.”

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration among Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM in Alabama and WWNO and WRKF in Louisiana and NPR.