Federal labor regulators have asked a court to force Starbucks to stop what they say is widespread illegal activity in response to a national campaign in which workers at more than 150 company-owned stores have voted to unionize.
In a petition filed Tuesday with US District Court in Buffalo, officials from the National Labor Relations Board accused the company of firing and disciplining union supporters; intimidate and threaten workers to dissuade them from voting for the union; and effectively offering benefits to workers if they opposed the union.
The agency is also seeking the reinstatement of seven Buffalo-area employees whom it said Starbucks had illegally expelled in retaliation for their union organizing activities, and an order effectively recognizing the union at a Buffalo-area store where the union lost. one vote despite strong initial support.
The agency said in its filings that the court’s intervention was necessary to stop Starbucks’ “virulent, pervasive, and well-orchestrated response to protected employee organizing efforts” and that without the proposed remedies, Starbucks “would achieve its unlawful goal.” to chill union support, both in Buffalo and across the country.”
Reggie Borges, a spokesman for Starbucks, denied the accusations. “As we have previously stated, we believe these claims to be false and we will be prepared to defend our case,” Borges wrote in an email.
Matt Bodie, a former labor board attorney who teaches employment law at St. Louis University, said it was not unusual for the agency to seek reinstatement of laid-off workers. But he said the national breadth of the injunction the agency sought was far less common, as was the court’s request to order union recognition at a store where the union initially lost its election.
“This is a major step in line with the Biden board’s commitment to a more rigorous and aggressive approach to labor law enforcement,” Bodie wrote in an email.
The labor board has already issued more than 30 formal complaints finding merit in allegations similar to those it cataloged in its petition Tuesday. It typically takes months or years to adjudicate such complaints, and the board said allowing the process to run its course while the company continues to break the law “would cement this chill and nullify the impact of a final remedy.”
The agency said the illegal anti-union activity began shortly after Buffalo workers went public with their union drive in late August, and intensified after two Buffalo-area stores won union votes in December. He said that Starbucks had expelled several union supporters for violating rules the company had not previously enforced.
The company “quickly undone its past practices to target union supporters more effectively,” the labor board wrote.
A federal judge recently rejected the labor board’s request to reinstate pro-union workers it said Starbucks had illegally kicked out in a similar, though narrower, case in Arizona.
The judge found that in the case of two workers, there was no evidence of retaliation for union activities, or the evidence was “inconsistent” with the allegations.
In the case of a third worker, the judge found that both sides had arguments to support their positions and that an administrative proceeding could ultimately show that Starbucks sought to retaliate for the worker’s union activities. But the judge concluded that Starbucks would have fired the worker even without her union involvement.