Starbucks Threatened to Shutter Stores Over Organizing, Union Claims

Starbucks Threatened to Shutter Stores Over Organizing, Union Claims

The labor group organizing workers at Starbucks Corp. has filed 20 complaints over the past week accusing the company of workers’ rights violations that range from a threat to shut down all stores in the Buffalo, New York, market to discriminatory enforcement of policies. 

The complaints, filed with the Buffalo regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, represent an escalation of the sprawling legal struggle between Starbucks and Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. The group claims that the company illegally coerced employees during “effectively mandatory” anti-union meetings, while pro-union employees were barred from the sessions. 

It also accuses Starbucks of enforcing rules on dress codes, language and Covid-19 quarantines in a way that discriminates against union-affiliated workers, and illegally restricting employees from talking to reporters. Workers United is organizing staff at more than 100 Starbucks locations. 

“We’ve been clear from the beginning: Any claims of anti-union activity are categorically false,” Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said in an email. 

The Seattle-based company has said that it strictly adheres to U.S. labor law. The coffee chain’s North America president, Rossann Williams, told employees in December that “we do not want a union between us as partners,” but that the company respects the legal process and would bargain in good faith at the first store where the union prevailed in Buffalo. 

Some of the complaints are similar to those recently filed by unions organizing at Amazon Inc. warehouses in New York and Alabama, which accuse the company of illegally coercing workers in anti-union “captive audience” meetings.

Workers United also accuses Starbucks of illegally terminating one of the union leaders at the first store it unionized in December. In a statement, the employee, Cassie Fleischer, said that the union is “now filing unfair labor practice charges to hold Starbucks accountable for their actions.” 

Claims filed with the NLRB are investigated by regional officials. If they find merit in the allegations and are unable to secure settlements, then they can issue complaints that are considered by agency judges. Those judges’ rulings can be appealed to the labor board’s members in Washington D.C. and from there into federal court. The labor board can order policy changes or the reinstatement of fired workers, but is restricted from fining companies for violations of the law.

Previous complaints filed by the union are still pending with the agency, including one over the firing of seven employees at a Memphis store -- a group that included almost all of the union’s organizing committee at the location. Starbucks has said those workers were terminated for safety violations.

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