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UK musician Billy Bragg rallies with striking Elmwood Starbucks workers

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Demonstrators overflowed into the street at the Elmwood Avenue Starbucks Wednesday afternoon.

It wasn’t for a pumpkin spice latte, but to sing along in solidarity with striking Starbucks baristas.

The coffee shop has been shuttered just shy of a week because of what union employees say is escalating corporate retaliation — a claim Starbucks denies.

UK musician and activist Billy Bragg served as the centerpiece of Wednesday’s demonstration.

“What is there to fear in empathy? And the reason they are so afraid of empathy is because if you mix empathy with activism you get solidarity. And that’s what they’re really afraid of,” Bragg said to the crowd.

Bragg is on tour and stopped in the Queen City on his way to Toronto. He said the baristas should have hope and keep pushing for change.

Starbucks mobile ordering leaves customers at striking Elmwood store empty-handed

“That’s what music does do, it makes you believe that there will be a great leap forward. But, just remember that you have to make it happen — so don’t forget that,” Bragg added.

Michael Sanabria worked at the Transit and North French Road location for five years. He claims he was fired for attending his grandmother’s funeral, the same time he was scheduled for a shift.

He had this message for Starbucks Interim CEO Howard Schultz: “Howard, stop union busting, negotiate with us. Don’t fire people over, like, the color of a hat, a pin on their apron or attending a funeral. Treat people the way you say you do. Let your actions follow the words that you say you’re about.”

News 4 has reached out to Starbucks corporate for a comment on this claim; we’re waiting to hear back.

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A shift supervisor News 4 spoke with said she feels like she’s in an abusive relationship with the corporation.

“They say we’re partners, but I feel like we’re in an abusive relationship, you know?” said Brianna Marciniak. “We just want to be treated fairly.”

Wednesday’s picket ended with one last battle cry by Bragg.

It’s not yet known when the Elmwood Starbucks will reopen.

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Patrick Ryan is a JANY award-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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