Starbucks committed ‘gross’ violations in fight against union, rules rules


Starbucks committed ‘gross and widespread’ violations of federal labor law by trying to shut down labor campaigns, ruled a federal administrative judge, who ordered the coffee giant to reopen shuttered stores and repay back wages and damages to employees who launched a nationwide organizing campaign at the company.

Starbucks has shown “general disregard for basic employee rights,” Judge Michael A. Rosas wrote in a 220-page order released Wednesday.

In resolving a massive case that combined 33 unfair labor practice charges at 21 Buffalo-area stores, Rosas argued the company retaliated against employees affiliated with Starbucks Workers United as they launched a labor campaign in 2021. Since then, 268 of some 9,000 company-owned U.S. stores have voted to unionize, and Starbucks acting chief executive Howard Schultz has drawn the ire of liberal political leaders.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Wednesday he would force a vote to subpoena Schultz as part of a hearing on organizing efforts at Starbucks.

“Ordering a company to reopen stores it closed should be embarrassing for Starbucks,” said Rebecca Givan, associate professor of social studies at Rutgers University.

Rosas’ order requires Starbucks to end a long list of behaviors that include: retaliating against employees for unionizing; promising better wages and benefits if workers quit the union; monitor employees who support the union while they are on site; refusal to hire potential employees who support the union; and the relocation of union organizers to new stores to halt group activity, overstaffed stores ahead of union votes.

Starbucks, judge says, must reopen stores it closed as union momentum builds among workers, reverse dozens of disciplinary actions taken against Buffalo-area employees, pay ‘reasonable consequential damages and offer to reinstate the dismissed workers in their jobs.

Rosas’ order also asks Schultz and Denise Nelson, the company’s senior vice president for US operations, to read a 14-page notice that explains workers’ rights and how the company violated the law.

That same notice must be posted in each of the company’s stores, Rosas said, and shared digitally with employees. He also ordered Starbucks to begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with Buffalo-area workers.

The judge wrote that the company exhibited “widespread union animosity” that influenced supervisors’ decision-making, a charge Starbucks has repeatedly denied.

“When workers launched their organizing campaign in the summer of 2021, we could never have imagined how far Starbucks would go to try to prevent employees from exercising their legal right to unionize,” Gary Bonadonna Jr. , director of the regional union Workers United Rochester board of directors, said in a statement. “This decision proves what we have been saying all along – Starbucks is the poster child for union busting in the United States. every Starbucks worker gets the right to unionize.

Starbucks spokesman Andrew Trull said the company believes the judge’s decision and order were “inappropriate given the record in this case.” Starbucks is considering “all options to obtain further legal review,” Trull said.

The company said workers were fired after violating company policies, not in retaliation for participating in union activities. The judge did not accept this explanation.

Starbucks fired employees involved in organizing swearing campaigns at work, even though swearing was common and usually did not result in discipline, Rosas said. After another employee appeared in a Washington Post report on Starbucks’ labor campaign, a manager changed her hours in a way that Rosas considered discriminatory and amounted to firing.

Another employee was fired after arriving late for a shift, even though “casual lateness was not strictly enforced” by supervisors, the judge found. When officials disciplined the employee for the incident, they incorporated criticism from nearly a year ago, even though Starbucks “generally does not rely on discipline over six months to assess subsequent violations.” .

“The evidence established that the respondent’s actions were motivated by a discriminatory motivation to eliminate another union supporter,” Rosas wrote of an employee’s termination. “His widespread coercive behavior for six months had permeated every store in the Buffalo Market.”

Lauren Kaori Gurley contributed to this report.

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