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


Starbucks committed “egregious and widespread” violations of federal labor law while trying to stop union campaigns, ruled a federal administrative law judge, who ordered the coffee giant to reopen closed stores and refund back pay and damages to employees who began a nationwide organizing drive at the company.

Starbucks showed “a blanket disregard for employees’ basic rights,” Judge Michael A. Rosas wrote in a 220-page order released Wednesday.

In settling a massive case that combined 33 unfair labor practice charges from 21 Buffalo-area stores, Rosas believed the company retaliated against employees affiliated with Starbucks Workers United when they began a union strike in 2021. Since then, 268 of the roughly 9,000 company-owned U.S. stores have voted to organize, and Starbucks’ interim CEO 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 impeach Schultz as part of a hearing on unionization at Starbucks.

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

Rosas’ order requires Starbucks to stop an extensive list of behaviors that include: retaliating against employees for unionizing; promises improved wages and benefits if workers give up the union; supervise union support staff while on site; refusing to hire potential employees who support the union; and moving union organizers to new stores to stop the group’s activity, overstaffing stores before union votes.

Starbucks, the judge said, must reopen stores it closed as union power grew among workers, rescind dozens of disciplinary actions against Buffalo-area employees, pay “reasonable consequential damages” and offer to reinstate fired workers to their jobs.

Rosas’ order also asks Schultz and Denise Nelson, the company’s senior vice president of U.S. operations, to read a 14-page notice explaining the workers’ rights and how the company violated the law.

The 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 agreement with workers in the Buffalo area.

The judge wrote that the company showed “widespread unionism” that colored 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 the lengths to which Starbucks would go to prevent employees from exercising their legal right to organize,” Gary Bonadonna Jr., head of the Workers United Rochester regional community. the board, says a statement. “This ruling proves what we’ve been saying all along – Starbucks is the poster child for union-busting in the United States. We are thrilled that the company is being held accountable for their actions, and we will continue to fight until every Starbucks worker wins the right to organize.” ยป

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

The company said workers were fired for violating company policies, and not in retaliation for engaging in union activity. The judge did not accept that explanation.

Starbucks fired employees who were involved in organizing profanity campaigns while on the job, even though profanity was common and usually did not result in discipline, Rosas said. After another employee came forward in a Washington Post report about the Starbucks union, a manager changed her hours in a way that Rosas believed was discriminatory and amounted to a firing.

Another employee was fired after arriving late for a shift, although “occasional tardiness was not strictly enforced” by supervisors, the judge found. When managers disciplined the employee for the incident, they incorporated criticism from nearly a year earlier, even though Starbucks “typically does not rely on discipline more than six months old when evaluating subsequent violations.”

“The evidence showed that respondent’s actions were driven by a discriminatory motivation to eliminate yet another union support,” Rosas wrote of one of the employee terminations. “Its widespread coercive behavior over six months had permeated every store in the Buffalo market.”

Lauren Kaori Gurley contributed to this report.

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