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Credit…Joshua Bessex / Associated press

With the outbreak of coronavirus cases in New York state, workers at the only company-owned Starbucks store that is unionized staged a walkout on Wednesday to protest what they say are unsafe working conditions.

Kyli Hilaire, a barista at the store, which is in Elmwood in the Buffalo area, said it was understaffed, workers struggled to enforce masking rules and many were worried for their health as they watched the number of Covid-19 cases spike in the region.

“One of our requests was to close the store to let the Covid outbreak run its course so that we could come back with a full staff rather than exhausting partners who can work,” said Ms Hilaire, 20 year. “They refuse to take the necessary precautions so that our partners do not come to work sick.”

The walkout, involving around half a dozen employees, will last the rest of the week, she added. The company said it has not determined whether the store will remain open.

Regional Starbucks executives met with union members on Tuesday evening to discuss their safety concerns, which escalated after an Elmwood store worker tested positive for the coronavirus. The company said all employees who had been in close contact with the infected person had been notified and had the option to quarantine themselves for five days with pay while monitoring symptoms or awaiting Covid test results.

“We have met and exceeded all guidelines from the CDC and security experts,” said Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesperson, adding that the company gave store and district managers leeway to adjust their operations. in response to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the virus. . “All leaders are empowered to make any changes that make sense for their neighborhood, which includes reducing store hours or moving to 100% take-out only, which is the case in Buffalo. . “

Starbucks said Monday it would reduce the number of days that vaccinated asymptomatic workers who have tested positive for the virus must self-isolate to five days instead of 10, following a change in focus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The company also said this week that all of its U.S. workers must be vaccinated by February 9 or undergo weekly tests, in accordance with the Biden administration’s vaccination rule for large employers.

When Starbucks workers in Elmwood voted to form their union last month, in an election recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, the result presented a challenge to the company’s long-held argument that its workers enjoy good wages and do not need a union.

“It was a little crazy getting out of work,” added Ms. Hilaire. “It was a first for everyone.

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