Westford Starbucks baristas allege unresolved issues with management after unionizing

WESTFORD — Baristas at the Westford Valley Marketplace Starbucks are alleging persistent safety issues, union retaliation and inappropriate conduct from management that continue to go unresolved.

After voting to unionize last June, employees claim their working environment and communication with store manager Daniel Sardella have only deteriorated, and about a third of the 11 people who voted for the union have since left the store, said barista Austin Gryglak, who spearheaded the effort.

The store shut down in September for a three-day strike, but baristas — called partners by the company — feel that Sardella has failed to hear their concerns.

Gryglak alleges a number of current safety concerns that he says are Sardella’s responsibility to address himself or delegate to staff. Piles of boxes block the emergency exit, trash is overflowing and wet espresso beans cover the floor, “things that people can easily be slipping on,” Gryglak said.

He mentioned the same “unsafe conditions” in an interview last fall.

“That’s a usual occurrence and something I brought to my manager’s attention,” he said. “I mean, I have dozens of pictures on my phone, our exit just completely blocked in a dangerous way, unfortunately.”

Management’s response, Gryglak said, “has been less than great.” He also claims Sardella admitted to denying partners a store meeting because they had unionized, a directive that supposedly came from District Manager Gordon Pundrothu.

After the strike, Sardella spoke with several of the store’s baristas, which Gryglak counted as a win. But during that meeting, “he tried to convince the people in the room that they were wrong to speak up” to The Sun, Gryglak said, specifically those quoted in the previous article.

Sardella said he couldn’t comment and directed a reporter to the Starbucks media relations. Andrew Trull, senior manager of corporate communications at Starbucks, said they had no reported safety issues from partners at the Westford store. Trull said he had reached out directly to “local management covering that market” to inquire about such issues.

When asked about the store’s refusal to meet with partners, Trull pointed to a store meeting last week, but according to barista Emily Allen, that meeting was set up by corporate to solely discuss “customer connection,” and she and other staff were told they could not bring up anything else.

The biggest challenge, Allen said, is the “lack of communication.”

“We haven’t been able to have a store meeting in a long time, which is important to all of us, because we all work at different times,” Allen said. “We don’t have a chance to talk to each other and share our concerns on the store.”

Allen said it seems Sardella is open to scheduling a meeting, but Pundrothu or leaders above him are “shutting that down.”

Pundrothu also said he could not comment, and when a reporter asked for clarification on his job and the stores he oversees, he hung up.

Barista Caiden Mills echoed Allen’s and Gryglak’s statements, citing poor communication between leadership and partners as well as safety hazards, like a leaking dish sanitizer that left water on the floor “for several days,” Mills said. While the store shift leads are in charge of dealing with some issues, Mills said they sometimes aren’t sure what to do.

“If there’s something broken, (Sardella) has to arrange for someone to come over and fix it,” Mills said.

Those problems have gone unaddressed, despite people bringing them up, Mills said. Baristas were apparently told the store doesn’t hold those types of meetings, which he said is “totally false.”

Mills also claimed Sardella shared personal information about him with coworkers. After returning from a five-day stint in the hospital in December, Mills said another person on his shift asked if he was alright. It was later revealed Sardella had allegedly approached that coworker and relayed Mills’ hospitalization because “he didn’t know how to handle it,” Mills said.

In another instance, Mills, who is transgender, said employees were instructed to remove a trans flag from the storefront because “it can be off-putting” to customers. Allen said she heard the flag was removed because the store could only display “specific signage from Starbucks.”

Mills went to Sardella “distraught.”

“It just felt very demeaning, because it felt like a very friendly space,” Mills said. “I felt welcome, I guess, and taking it down felt like a kick in the gut.”

Given the situation, Mills and Gryglak suggested Sardella be removed.

“I 100% think the best course of action is for Dan to be replaced,” Mills said. “He is just far too immature for the role, doesn’t follow through with his responsibilities and is just generally not the best at handling the tasks he’s been set to do.”

With customers leaving — due to apparent short staffing — and the store in disarray, Gryglak said it seems like the appropriate course of action.

“Frankly, from corporate at this point, we’ve done enough (complaints) on Daniel and Gordon that they probably should not still be employed,” he said. “I mean, I’ve seen them write people up for much less in the past.”

The Starbucks location in Gardner held a bargaining session with corporate representatives Tuesday, and Gryglak said partners at that location seem to also have issues with management.

Prior to that, Gryglak expressed “high hopes” for that bargaining effort, but added that “Starbucks runs a very effective anti-union campaign.”

“I would just love to see some accountability,” Gryglak said. “That’s my whole thing.”

Julie Langevin, an organizer with Starbucks Workers United in New England, said the company continues to short staff partners, threaten the removal of their benefits and are “making life just a little bit harder.”

They faced opposition at the Gardner bargaining session, Langevin said, because corporate refuses to actively negotiate. Inaction and frequent dismissals will force Starbucks employees to take action, and Langevin said failure to bargain charges are currently being processed through the National Labor Relations Board.

“As a staff member of Workers United and a former Starbucks partner myself of 12 years, I am very familiar with all of these things that these workers are facing — the workers in Westford, the workers in Gardner, the workers in Boston and all across the country,” Langevin said. “And it is absolutely them coming together and fighting for themselves, and that’s what it’s going to take to make change.”

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