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Starbucks Illegally Hampered Worker’s Testimony, Judge Says (1)

Nov. 4, 2022, 1:40 PMUpdated: Nov. 4, 2022, 3:44 PM

Starbucks Corp. violated federal labor law by setting preconditions on a Seattle worker’s ability to testify at a National Labor Relations Board hearing in response to an agency subpoena, an NLRB judge held.

The company illegally told employees they can’t testify when subpoenaed without getting a co-worker to cover their shift, and threatened them with discipline if they failed to secure that coverage, Administrative Law Judge John Giannopoulos ruled Thursday.

The worker who was subpoenaed ultimately testified in an NLRB regional director’s hearing, as she was already scheduled to be off work that day, the judge said.

The company also violated the National Labor Relations Act by prohibiting workers from distributing union buttons during breaks, Giannopoulos held.

Starbucks is committed to its employees’ right to choose whether to unionize and won’t tolerate inappropriate behavior aimed at workers interested in a union, according to company spokeswoman Rachel Wall.

“While we disagree with the administrative law judge’s decision, we respect the NLRB process and our partners’ right to participate in lawful union activities including legal proceedings,” she said in a statement.

Thursday’s decision follows two administrative law judge rulings against Starbucks in October. More decisions are on the horizon as the agency processes more than two dozen complaints alleging the coffee chain committed unfair labor practices amid a nationwide union organizing campaign.

The Starbucks Workers United union has won elections at approximately 250 locations since its first victory last December.

The case is Starbucks Corp., N.L.R.B. A.L.J., Case 19-CA-289275, 11/3/22.

(Updated with comment from Starbucks.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Iafolla in Washington at riafolla@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Laura D. Francis at lfrancis@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloombergindustry.com