Starbucks’ union busting was so bad it should be forced to bargain: labor officials

The union campaign at Starbucks has organized around 80 stores across the country in a matter of months, winning the vast majority of elections held so far. CEO Howard Schultz and his team managed to defeat the campaign in only a handful of stores where workers voted against a union.

Now, it looks like one of Schultz’s few wins could end up in his loss column.

A National Labor Relations Board official has called for Starbucks to be ordered to bargain with the union, Workers United, at a store in the Buffalo, New York, area, where the union lost an election at the end of the year last. The official argues that Starbucks has tainted the process with illegal tactics and that holding catch-up elections won’t be enough: the company should be forced to recognize the union and negotiate.

Such a request is not common at the labor board and shows how egregious officials think Starbucks’ behavior has been in Western New York.

“It’s been a very long road to get here and very frustrating to deal with a company that repeatedly violated labor laws to coerce workers into voting ‘no,'” said Will Westlake, a pro-union barista from the store in question. “Today we can say that we took notice, and the federal government agrees that this was one of the worst anti-union campaigns.

The request for a bargain order is part of a complaint filed against Starbucks by Linda Leslie, regional director of the NLRB. The filing alleges the company committed a litany of labor violations by firing half a dozen pro-union workers, disciplining and monitoring others, closing stores and changing work policies while she was fighting the union organizing campaign in New York.

“It’s been a very long road to get here and very frustrating to deal with a company that has repeatedly violated labor laws.”

– Barista Will Westlake

The lawsuit was originally filed earlier this month without the request for a bargain order. Leslie filed an amended complaint Thursday to include it.

This complaint will be brought before an administrative law judge, who will decide whether Starbucks should negotiate with workers at the Camp Road store in Hamburg, New York. The process is subject to appeals and could take years.

In one of the campaign’s first elections, workers at the Camp Road store voted 12 to 8 against unionisation. A bargain order would effectively reverse that loss and unionize the store. It would also be a big symbolic victory for the labor campaign, which argues that Starbucks can’t win without playing dirty.

Starbucks could not immediately be reached for comment, but the company said earlier this month that it had denied all allegations in Leslie’s broader complaint: “We believe the allegations contained in the complaint are false, and we look forward to presenting our evidence when the allegations are tried. »

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and his team are 9 and 79 this season.

AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File

According to the NLRB, 94 recounts have taken place so far for the Starbucks elections. The union won 79 and lost only nine; results are not final in six others. Some election results have been disputed on both sides and could change.

Labor Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo has outlined an aggressive agenda that would crack down on companies that try to illegally dismantle unions. Abruzzo specifically said she would try to make more use of bargain orders when she feels they are warranted. Civil servants can request them when an employer has created such an atmosphere of intimidation that repeating an election will not suffice.

In the complaint, Leslie argues that the firing of union supporters and other forms of retaliation mean that “traditional remedies” will not suffice in the Camp Road case. She says workers have made clear their desire to unionize by signing a majority of union cards, so Starbucks should negotiate.

As part of the complaint, Leslie alleges that Starbucks attempted to chill union support by permanently closing a store in the area and temporarily closing another, which was later closed. reopened as a training center.

Richard Bensinger, a campaign organizer, argued that the closures were meant to have a broad effect.

“It’s not just designed to scare people in this store, it’s to scare people all over the country,” he said.

Westlake said workers at one of the closed stores were eventually transferred to Camp Road and given their recent experience were reluctant to vote for the union. He thinks the closure has undeniably had an effect on how the Camp Road vote went.

“They all said, ‘We tried to organize and they closed our store,'” Westlake said. “It’s just unreal some of the things that [Starbucks] did. … You’re supposed to have a democratic process. There’s nothing less democratic than the campaign Starbucks tried to run at Camp Road.

Starbucks executive Rossann Williams spent weeks in Buffalo last year as workers organized, as she and other managers tried to influence them against the union. In her complaint alleging labor law violations, Leslie says Williams or Schultz should have to read a script informing workers of their rights that have been violated, or stand in the presence of a council official who does so, and then spin video available in stores across the country.

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