Safety concerns cited at some stores are linked to issues like drug use and a growing mental health crisis. The company recently announced a new initiative to focus on employee safety, including plans to close restrooms, modify store layouts and improve security systems.
And in some cases, company officials said, that means closing stores permanently where “safety … is no longer possible.”
The locations of the Los Angeles-area stores that will close are:
In addition to the six in Los Angeles, the coffee giant is closing six stores in its hometown of Seattle, two in Portland, Oregon and one each in Philadelphia and Washington. Starbucks said employees at those stores will be given the opportunity to transfer to other stores.
The downtown location is not far from the headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department. The area has seen a sharp increase in homeless encampments in recent years.
“I recognize that the downtown area, the civic center, has had its challenges, particularly during this pandemic, with areas of persons experiencing homelessness and encampments,” said LAPD Chief Michel Moore. And the perception of safety and the reality of isolated incidents.”
“I’m disappointed to see Starbucks or for that matter any commercial engagement give up or walk away from the city. And I’m hopeful that they’ll change that.”
Starbucks has more than 34,000 stores in more than 80 countries worldwide.
Company officials say the closures are part of a larger effort to respond to staff concerns and make sure stores are safe and welcoming. In a letter to employees, Starbucks’ senior vice presidents of operations Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson said the company’s stores aren’t immune from problems like rising drug use and a growing mental health crisis.
“You’re also seeing firsthand the challenges facing our communities – personal safety, racism, lack of access to healthcare, a growing mental health crisis, rising drug use, and more,” they wrote. “With stores in thousands of communities across the country, we know these challenges can, at times, play out within our stores too. We read every incident report you file – it’s a lot.
“We want you to know that creating a safe, welcoming, and kind third place is our top priority. Because simply put, we cannot serve as partners if we don’t first feel safe at work. The question on our minds is: How do we continue to show up for our communities while protecting our partners?”
But the company also faced criticism from some workers who said they weren’t consulted or given any options besides closure.
“We think it is not fair that we were not allowed to be a part of this decision about our working conditions, nor for Starbucks to claim they could not provide a safe experience for our workplace,” said Mari Cosgrove, an employee at one of the Seattle stores that is closing.
The closures took on heightened significance because of an ongoing unionization effort at Starbucks’ US stores. More than 189 US Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since late last year, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Starbucks opposes the unionization effort.
Two of the Seattle stores that are closing have voted to unionize, while one of the Portland stores has petitioned to hold a union vote. Last month, Starbucks also closed a unionized store in Ithaca, New York, because of operational problems, including an overflowing grease trap.
Starbucks Workers United, the labor group organizing the effort, said it intends to file unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks on behalf of the two unionized stores that are closing in Seattle.
But Starbucks insisted the closures weren’t related to the unionization drive.
“Opening and closing stores is part of our business operations,” a spokesperson for the company said. “This is really rooted in safe and welcoming stores.”
US labor law doesn’t prevent Starbucks from closing its stores for business reasons. But it can’t close a store – whether it’s unionized or not – in retaliation against labor organizers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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