Starbucks used “array of illegal tactics” against unionizing workers, labor regulators say

The National Labor Relations Board is asking a federal court to order Starbucks to stop using what the federal agency calls an “array of illegal tactics” aimed at workers involved in unionization efforts at the coffee chain’s stores.  

The NLRB’s petition, filed Tuesday in a U.S. District Court in western New York, is the board’s third against the company since workers at a Starbucks store in Buffalo in December voted to join a union — a first for the retailer’s nearly 10,000 company-owned stores in the U.S. At least 151 stores have since voted to unionize, and more than 289 stores have filed with the NLRB to hold elections. 

Starbucks opposes the unionization effort, arguing the company runs better when dealing directly with its employees. But it has consistently rejected claims it uses unlawful tactics aimed at discouraging workers from trying to organize.

“As we have said previously, we believe these claims are false and will be prepared to defend our case,” a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in an email.

In its most recent filing, the NLRB called on the court to order Starbucks to reinstate seven Buffalo workers that the agency contends were illegally fired for trying to form a union. It also wants the court to require Starbucks to negotiate with a store whose union election was harmed by what the panel says were the company’s anti-union efforts.

Starbucks used “an expansive array of illegal tactics,” including using managers to monitor workers and discourage union activity, closing stores with active organizing drives, and firing seven union activists at five different stores over the course of six weeks, the NLRB said in a news release.

“Absent immediate interim relief, Starbucks will achieve its goal, through unlawful means, or irreparably harming the campaign in Buffalo, and sending a clear chilling message to its employees across the country,” Linda Leslie, the NLRB’s regional director in Buffalo, stated.

Leslie issued a consolidated complaint in May containing over 200 allegations of unfair labor practices by Starbucks. A hearing on the complaint before an administrative law judge is set for July 11, 2022.  


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The agency is also asking the court to order Starbucks to halt a range of conduct, including refusing to negotiate with stores that have voted to unionize and temporarily or permanently shuttering those stores. 

Starbucks Workers United, the group leading the unionization drive, praised the NLRB’s petition. 

“The company’s union busting has been shocking and relentless over the last 10 months, and the relief the NLRB seeks in federal court matches the scope and depth of Starbucks’ violations of workers’ rights,” Ian Hayes, an attorney for the union, said Wednesday in a statement.

In an April letter to Starbucks employees, interim Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz alluded to “outside union forces” in the organizing campaign, and the company noted that one organizer, Jaz Brisack, was on the payroll of Workers United, a branch of the Service Employees International Union.

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