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Starbucks Faces Bitter Brew of Federal Labor Complaints

May 10, 2022 by Reece Nations
Starbucks Faces Bitter Brew of Federal Labor Complaints
Michelle Eisen, a barista at the Buffalo, N.Y., Elmwood Starbucks location, helps out the local Starbucks Workers United, employees of a local Starbucks, as they gather at a local union hall to cast votes to unionize or not, on Feb. 16, 2022, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The regional director for the National Labor Relations Board in Buffalo, New York, filed a complaint last week against Starbucks alleging the coffeehouse company committed a litany of federal labor law violations.

Starbucks Workers United alleges the company promised employees increased benefits and improved employment conditions if they ceased conducting organized union activity. Further, the Starbucks workers insist that the company engaged in a variety of union-busting activities, such as retaliatory firings, making unlawful threats, shuttering pro-union franchises and intimidation.

In a copy of the complaint shared with The Well News, the plaintiffs maintain they were promised benefits including extensive store renovations and the installation of a drive-through and mobile ordering services at the Williamsville Place Starbucks location in Williamsville, New York. The complaint also outlines threats and captive audience meetings conducted by Starbucks to discourage union activity.

“The complaint covers 29 unfair labor practice charges that contain over 200 allegations of Starbucks violating the National Labor Relations Act,” Kayla Blado, press secretary of NLRB’s Office of Congressional and Public Affairs, told The Well News. “If the parties don’t settle, there will be a hearing with an administrative law judge. The ALJ could dismiss the case or order remedies. The parties could then appeal the decision to the [NLRB].”

Employees were warned that they would lose their “direct relationship with management” should they choose the union as their collective bargaining representative, according to the complaint. Additionally, the employees were allegedly told they would lose the right to pick up shifts at other stores if they selected the union as their bargaining representative.

The plaintiffs also allege Starbucks engaged in surveillance of employees’ union activities by monitoring their conversations through headsets. Further, the employees maintain they were interrogated for wearing a union pin and barred from posting union literature in the store.

The company will have a chance to respond to and defend itself from the accusation at an administrative hearing scheduled for July 11. Starbucks has steadfastly denied that it has conducted any union-busting activities.

“The complaint, issued by the NLRB Regional Director in Buffalo, involves important issues,” Starbucks said in a written statement shared with The Well News. “However, Starbucks does not agree that the claims have merit, and the complaint’s issuance does not constitute a finding by the NLRB.”

“It is the beginning of a litigation process that permits both sides to be heard and to present evidence.  We believe the allegations contained in the complaint are false, and we look forward to presenting our evidence when the allegations are adjudicated. As we have said, we will continue to follow and respect the process laid out by the NLRB.”

However, accusations against Starbucks’s labor practices are not exclusive to western New York. Starbucks Workers United along with the Service Employees International Union filed another complaint against the coffeehouse chain last Wednesday, in which they contend employees in Phoenix, Arizona, were similarly subjected to unfair labor practices.

The Arizona complaint alleges Starbucks retaliated against employees by firing three of the four members of the union’s organizing committee. The NLRB’s regional director for Phoenix is seeking an injunction that would force Starbucks to rehire those employees.

“Starbucks is finally being held accountable for the union-busting rampage they went on,” Danny Rojas, a fired Starbucks employee and union leader, said in a written statement shared with The Well News. “Starbucks needs to understand that it is morally corrupt to retaliate against union leaders, and I am looking forward to the NLRB forcing Starbucks to make this moment right.”

Reece can be reached at reece@thewellnews.com and @ReeceNWrites

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