Assaults, Confrontations, Harassment Leads To A First Sacramento Starbucks Unionizing

Apr 27, 2023

by Scott Thomas Anderson

It was the morning after Christmas 2022 when Rachel Holman walked into the Starbucks at 1901 J St. and noticed huge pieces of plywood fixed across shattered windows. She already knew what happened. Frantic texts had reached Holman the day before describing the ordeal: It involved a man who’d broken the café’s windows on several previous occasions coming back, this time with some seriously destructive Yuletide rage. Holman had snapped photos of the earlier incidents. Now, the man’s latest onslaught had basically ruined the whole back section of the store.

Holman didn’t have too much time to dwell on it. She was opening the café when a stranger suddenly burst inside from the shadows. The man announced himself with a violent roar of curses. Holman heard him shouting the C-word at her. Turning her head, she was only certain of one thing — this wasn’t that person who had wrecked the café the day before. Holman knew that other character. Scraggly, disheveled, teetering, this new intruder was heavyset with a medium build, and he was fixating on the 5-foot-2 barista.
Holman was practically alone. The unwell visitor started reaching for a row of ceramic mugs on display and then hurtling them as porcelain missiles right at Holman’s head. The 27-year-old started ducking in real time.

“He was definitely drunk,” Holman said of her attacker. “I think that’s why he missed my face so many times.”

Holman’s encounter marked back-to-back incidents for the J Street Starbucks to end 2022 on, but Sacramento police records indicate that those harry moments were not outliers. The Starbucks at 1901 J St., and the Starbucks at 7th and K streets, have both experienced a steady stream of public safety problems. Just last month, on March 30, Sacramento police officers were called to the K Street Starbucks because a man had allegedly attacked a customer with an axe. According to the police, that suspect, 59-year-old Ronald Johnson, had been holding the weapon up to the windows for people to see — and at one point struck someone on the shoulder with it. Police arrested Johnson and charged him with two counts of battery and brandishing a weapon.

Sacramento Police Sergeant Zach Eaton acknowledged that his department is aware of repeated problems at both the J Street and K Street Starbucks.
“Just looking at the data from this year, there’s been a very decent amount of calls for service at both those locations,” Eaton confirmed. “Our Downtown Command has been in contact with Starbucks corporate about those locations and safety at those locations.”

But Holman and her co-worker Darrow Pierce say that Starbucks isn’t working closely with its own employees on those challenges, and that’s one of the main reasons they were trying to unionize. Employees at the K street locations have similar concerns. Baristas at both stores have told reporters they want on-site security in the dark morning and dark evening hours, more and better security cameras — ones with audio capability that cover the entire floor — and de-escalation training for rank-and-file baristas, not just the supervisors and above. They claim that Starbucks has repeatedly denied those requests.

Starbucks’s headquarters maintains that unionizing is not in the best interest of its employees and that, in the case of Sacramento’s urban core, it has been working to make those baristas feel more secure.

“Where safety issues in and around a store continue to jeopardize the well-being of our partners, we have been working with deep care and urgency to take action,” Starbucks representative Andrew Trull wrote in an email.

Pierce feels that’s lip service and recounts being stalked and sexually harassed at the J Street café by a man who would often come in. The individual appeared obsessed with Pierce being transgender. At one point, the harasser even asked other Starbucks baristas about Pierce’s genitals. Pierce says the store’s managers provided the man with a formal written request to not come inside anymore, but it’s not a criminal trespassing prohibition or legally binding. Since then, according to Pierce and Holman, the man continues to show up at the windows and stare intensely at Pierce.

“When I close, it’s really dark in the parking lot,” Pierce said of not having security guards. “How do I know he’s not going to come find out for himself what genitals I have?”
The National Labor Relations Board was at the J Street location to hold a vote on unionizing April 13, and did the same at the K Street location April 14. While the J Street vote came up short, the baristas at K Street cafe voted 11-to-2 to unionize.