NLRB files sweeping complaint against Starbucks for union-busting

Starbucks workers fighting for a nationwide union have won a major victory after the US government agency sided with workers against the company

May 12, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Newly unionized workers in California celebrate their victory after winning their union election 14-0 (Photo via: WorkersUnitedWS on Twitter)

As the unionizing efforts of Starbucks workers are coming to fruition across the United States, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has begun to act decisively in workers favor. On May 6, the NLRB filed an complaint against Starbucks for labor law violations including “retaliatory terminations, shuttering of pro-union stores, unlawful threats, and oppressive surveillance and intimidation tactics” as reported by Starbucks Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks workers. This is one of the largest cases in NLRB history. 

This complaint stems from Starbucks labor law violations during organizing efforts in Buffalo, New York, which is the first Starbucks location to unionize in the US. The complaint alleges that Starbucks violated labor law over 200 times in an effort to suppress organizing. As Starbucks Workers United wrote in a statement, the complaint “confirms what Starbucks partners have been reporting from the front lines for months—Starbucks President of North America Rossann Williams led an army of managers—including the 103 listed in the Complaint—from around the country into Buffalo to spy, threaten, and interfere with workers’ union organizing activity.” 

At the height of organizing efforts last year, Starbucks closed entire locations in Buffalo that were attempting to unionize. These efforts were in vain, as on December 9, 2021, workers at Elmwood Avenue Starbucks in Buffalo voted to make their store the first union Starbucks in the nation. 

The company responded to the massive complaint, saying, “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.” In reality, the NLRB only files such a complaint after they have found union allegations to be credible. 

The complaint comes as a result of the efforts of Starbucks Workers United, who have filed more than 100 unfair labor practices charges against Starbucks through the NLRB. The union’s efforts have also paid off in Memphis, where the NLRB sued Starbucks on May 10 for illegally firing seven workers for labor organizing. 

The company responded to the lawsuit, stating, “We believe the allegations contained in the filing by the NLRB Regional Director are false, and we look forward to presenting our evidence when the allegations are adjudicated…A partner’s right to organize does not exempt them from adhering to our policies. We will continue to enforce those policies equally for all partners.” Starbucks alleges that the union organizers were not fired because of their organizing, but rather that they allowed off-duty staff and non-employees such as reporters into the store, and that they violated safety protocols. 

Beto Sanchez, one of the fired seven, said in an interview with Democracy Now, “They’re not going to fire an employee directly for unionizing, because they are aware of how illegal it is. Instead, they will try to enforce something that was never enforced for whatever reason. For instance, the reason they wanted to fire me was because I had a mask off while I was off duty, which doesn’t make any sense.”

Workers organizing with Starbucks Workers United have now successfully unionized over 50 locations in the US. The workers have had overwhelmingly positive responses to the organizing efforts, with many stores unanimously voting to unionize. In stores attempting to unionize, the union has won 46 out of 54 stores—85% win rate. This runs counter to Starbucks corporate claims that most workers do not want a union.