Starbucks broke law by firing and threatening pro-union workers, Labor Board says

Starbucks has committed a host of labor rights violations by firing six pro-union workers, disciplining and monitoring others, closing stores and changing labor policies during its battle against an organizing campaign, according to a complaint filed Friday by labor officials.

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board brought the charges against the Seattle-based coffee chain after finding merit in the allegations made by the Workers United union. The union has successfully organized more than 50 Starbucks stores since last year despite an aggressive counter campaign by the company.

The complaint filed on Friday was unusually broad, alleging a pattern of intimidation and retaliation at several stores in New York. He also implicated CEO Howard Schultz, alleging he broke the law last November by promising “increased benefits” if they didn’t unionize.

Regional Director Linda Leslie demanded that either Schultz or Executive Rossann Williams read a notice to workers explaining what their rights are, or be present with council officers reading the notice. Linda said a video should be recorded so it can be distributed to all stores.

The complaint says Starbucks closed stores with the intention of intimidating workers seeking a union, punished workers who supported the organizing effort, deployed managers to monitor union sympathizers, and granted benefits in an attempt to turn the workers against the union.

Commission officials are filing such a complaint after investigating a union’s allegations and finding them credible.

The labor campaign, known as Starbucks Workers United, said the complaint “completely unmasks the facade of Starbucks as a ‘progressive company'”.

“Starbucks said there has never been any union busting in Buffalo. Today the NLRB is setting the record straight,” the campaign said in a statement Friday. “The complaint confirms the extent and depravity of Starbucks’ conduct in Western New York for much of the year. Starbucks will be held accountable for the anti-union minefield it forced workers through to defend their right to unionise.

A Starbucks spokesperson said in an email that the company does not believe the allegations have merit, calling the complaint “the start of a legal process allowing both sides to be heard.”

“We believe the allegations in the complaint are false and we look forward to presenting our evidence when the allegations come to trial,” the spokesperson said.

Many of the alleged actions occurred at Starbucks stores in the Buffalo area, where the organizing drive began in 2021. The effort has since spread across the country, with more than 200 stores requesting union elections.

In the complaint, Leslie said Starbucks should be required to provide managers with worker rights training and provide the union with “equal time” to make its case to workers if the company holds union-busting meetings. She also said laid off workers should be offered reinstatement and back pay.

Without a settlement between the board and Starbucks, the case could go to trial, with witnesses from both sides providing testimony.

The charges are part of a larger legal fight between Starbucks and Workers United, with the campaign accusing the company of retaliating against organizers. The union has urged board officials to file lawsuits against Starbucks, arguing that the company’s actions will have a chilling effect on workers who would otherwise assert their rights.

Labor Board officials have previously found merit in some of the union’s demands. Another regional manager recently filed a lawsuit against Starbucks for firing a group of Tennessee workers known as the Memphis Seven.

In another case, the labor board’s general counsel went to federal court seeking a temporary injunction to get three Starbucks workers back to work. The general counsel accused Starbucks of targeting workers for their union support.

This story has been updated with comments from Starbucks.

Read the full complaint below:

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