Another Colorado Springs Starbucks votes to unionize as Denver workers raise alarm over recent firings

Matt Bloom/CPR News
Monique McGeorge stands outside of her former workplace, the Starbucks on Holly St. and Leetsdale Dr. in Denver.

Baristas at another Starbucks in Colorado Springs have voted to unionize, upping the total number of organized stores to six out of several hundred statewide. 

The results, announced by the National Labor Relations Board Wednesday, were just the latest development in a statewide labor organizing campaign among the coffee giant’s employees. Last month, baristas at three other Denver and Springs-area locations won their elections.

They join a number of stores nationwide seeking entry to the Workers United chapter of the massive Service Employees International Union. Employees at hundreds of locations in at least 25 states have filed to hold union elections since a Buffalo, New York store became the first to make the move last December. 

Workers at the Centennial Ave. store in the Springs, who won their election, say they hope to secure more regular hours through collective bargaining. Many have seen their weekly hours drop in recent months, said Mick Magdaleno, a barista and organizer.

“I was sitting at like around 35 hours a week and I went down to like the low twenties,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense and we want more control back because people are quitting.” 

Fired union baristas say company targeted them

The results — 12-4 — come as the union is raising alarms over a spate of firings at recently-organized Denver stores. Workers United filed complaints with the NLRB this month about four terminations it claimed the company made in retaliation for workers voting in favor of unionization. 

Starbucks, in official paperwork, has said the firings were made for health or performance violations. In a statement to CPR, the company called allegations that firings were made in response to union support “categorically false.” 

“We have fully honored the process laid out by the NLRB and encouraged our partners to exercise their right to vote in the election to have their voices heard,” the company said. 

The company is also seeking to overturn union election results at one store on East Colfax Ave. That complaint is still pending review from the NLRB. 

“These are all bogus tactics to delay bargaining,” said Malachi Dray, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union. “Workers are not deterred.”   

Barista Monique McGeorge worked for Starbucks for a year and half until she was let go last month. 

The reason? Dropping a cake pop, picking it up off the counter and handing it to a customer, according to her termination letter and official statement to managers. Following the drop, a customer complained to management. 

“It was a stupid mistake,” she told CPR. “I would have taken a write up. But that’s not a fireable offense, in my view.”

It was her first time logging a performance strike for a mistake on the job, she said. 

The cake pop accident happened on May 6, as McGeorge and her coworkers at the Holly St. and Leetsdale Dr. shop were voting on whether to unionize. Election results came in on May 19, and she was let go on the 24th, according to her termination letter. 

Starbucks did not answer questions about the events leading up to McGeorge’s firing. 

She recently acquired another job at a nearby department store, but misses the camaraderie and flexibility she had at her job at the coffee shop.

“I do believe that for some reason they're trying to clear out Starbucks and union support,” McGeorge said. “They're cutting hours. They're doing all kinds of crazy stuff.” 

The union is planning a rally in support of fired workers this Saturday at the state capitol building, according to Workers United. 

Business hours shortened at Holly and Leetsdale shop, other Denver stores

Workers say the firings, and departure of some employees who can’t get enough hours, are exacerbating labor shortages at union stores. The company is closing a unionized store in Ithaca, New York due to “staffing and attendance” issues, NPR reported.

This week, the location at Holly and Leetsdale closed for a day and announced it would permanently reduce its business hours to 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., according to a sign posted on its door. The sign did not give a reason for the changes. 

Matt Bloom/CPR News
An note to customers is shown outside of the Holly St. and Leetsdale Dr. Starbucks in Denver on June 7, 2022. The store is cutting its business hours, which workers say is due to a labor shortage brought on by recent firings.

“Our apologies!,” read a sign posted on the front door and drive through. Nearby, another large sign with “NOW HIRING” in bold, black letters hung in the front window.

Store hour changes are popping up at other union stores in Denver, including the 16th Street Mall store and East Colfax location, according to Workers United. 

Firings haven’t been an issue in Colorado Springs stores yet, said Bradley Kurtz, a barista and organizer at the Academy Blvd. location in the Springs. The store’s recent union election was declared a tie, and the NLRB is reviewing the count. 

However, turnover is still high in Kurtz’ store because pro-union workers are seeing their weekly hours dwindle, he said. 

“A lot of people have just started looking for other work,” Kurtz said. “People try to hang on as long as they can, but a lot aren’t able to.” 

Magdaleno, the barista at the Centennial store, said conflicts between the union and company in Denver were concerning. 

“But we’re still excited,” he said. “We want to reach out to a lot of other stores in the area about organizing to help keep the ball rolling.”

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to fix an incorrect date.