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What's at stake?

Takemoto's case is just one more example of the tactics Starbucks union workers say is used by the company to stop workers from forming unions in its stores.

Benjamin Takemoto, the shift supervisor at the Herndon and Marks Starbucks store in northwest Fresno, said he’s been placed indefinitely on paid time off by the company, a move Takemoto says “feels retaliatory.”

Takemoto authored an open letter released April 21 announcing the shop’s intent to unionize.

Takemoto said he’s not sure why he’s been placed on leave. “He didn’t say what it was about; he just said there had been some concerns,” Takemoto said.

“Obviously, if I’m being sent on paid time off, it feels like I’m being punished for something,” Takemoto said in an interview with The Bee/Fresnoland on Wednesday.

Takemoto said he received a call around 8 p.m. on Monday, informing him that the paid leave was indefinite. He said he was instructed not to visit the store or contact colleagues via social media, text message, or phone. He said he was also told to only communicate with Kevin Morin, a regional director with Starbucks.

Morin could not be reached for immediate comment. Shameca Hunter, the district manager for Starbucks, and Nayeli Martinez, the store manager, could not be reached for comment.

In an email to The Bee on Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Starbucks said they are “unable to discuss this private employment matter.”

Maria Rivera, regional manager of Workers United, the union supporting Fresno Starbucks workers, said she is “not surprised at all” by the news.

“It’s something that the workers are facing, not only here,” but across the country, said Rivera in an interview with The Bee on Wednesday.

As of late May, the National Labor Relations Board has filed 56 complaints against Starbucks for labor law violations, including firing workers for their union activity, the Associated Press reported.

Takemoto’s case is “the first time that they do this in California,” Rivera said. “It’s very clear it’s all about intimidating the workers.”

Takemoto and Workers United said they are working with their lawyers.

Meanwhile, Takemoto said he and his “partners” at the store have a contingency plan in place.

“I’ve been very candid with my partners at the store and let them know it’s very likely that I could be fired or something like this in retaliation to the union effort,” he said. “There’s many leaders ready to step up behind me at the store.”

Ballots will be mailed out for the store’s union vote on June 17 and ballots will be counted on July 11.

“This is not the end of it,” said Rivera. “We’re going to support Benjamin (Takemoto) all the way.”

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.