In a high-profile labor ruling, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) judge said that coffee giant Starbucks engaged in “egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights” in New York.
The 218-page ruling, filed late Wednesday by NLRB Administrative Law Judge Michael A. Rosas, addressed 35 complaints filed by union organization Workers United on behalf of 20 Starbucks stores in Buffalo, New York, plus one in Rochester. Buffalo-area stores were the first Starbucks to unionize back in 2021.
Rosas ruled that Starbucks committed numerous “hallmark violations” of labor law, including the firing of pro-union employees, the closing of pro-union stores, unwarranted surveillance and photographing of pro-union employees and more strict enforcement of rules amongst pro-union employees.
The judge said that even absent of “hallmark violations,” the company committed “hundreds of unfair labor practices” beginning in August of 2021, when workers in Buffalo first engaged in a unionization campaign.
Prior to a high-profile December election at three Buffalo stores, some of Starbucks’ top officials, including CEO Howard Schultz, visited Buffalo to meet with workers.
“The unprecedented incursion of the Respondent’s highest-level corporate executives into Buffalo-area stores was relentless and likely left a lasting impact as to the importance of voting against representation,” Rosas wrote.
Rosas ordered the company to reinstate and cover damages for seven employees who were fired, while ordering back pay for 27 other employees. Starbucks is expected to contest the ruling.
In a statement issued to multiple media outlets, the company said, “We believe the decision and the remedies ordered are inappropriate given the record in this matter and are considering all options to obtain further legal review,”
Following Wednesday’s ruling, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee planned to hold a vote on March 8 on whether or not to subpoena Schultz. A yes vote would require Schultz to testify at a Senate hearing regarding the company’s alleged labor violations.
As of this writing, at least 289 of Starbucks’ approximately 9,000 company-owned stores in the U.S. have unionized. Starbucks and Workers United have each filed dozens of complaints against one another with the NLRB.
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Nick Brown is the editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine.