Bloomberg Law
Feb. 1, 2023, 3:12 PMUpdated: Feb. 1, 2023, 6:07 PM

Starbucks Illegally Threatened Workers, NLRB Judge Rules (2)

Robert Iafolla
Robert Iafolla
Senior Legal Reporter

Starbucks Corp. made a series of illegal threats to its workers during a union election drive at its signature Seattle Roastery, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled.

The company violated federal labor law by telling workers it would be futile for them to join a union, Administrative Law Judge John Giannopoulos held Tuesday. Starbucks also unlawfully threatened to reduce or end benefits if workers voted to unionize, and said it would prioritize non-union stores while those with unions would miss out on added benefits, the judge found.

The workers elected Starbucks Workers United as their bargaining representative last April, one of more than 275 locations that have unionized in a nationwide organizing wave. In a separate case pending before the NLRB, Starbucks faces charges that it illegally refused to bargain with the union representing the Seattle Roastery workers.

Beyond its symbolic value—Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has called the Seattle Roastery the “fulfillment of a decades-long dream"—that location stands out because it has about 100 union workers, making it much larger than the typical unionized Starbucks.

Starbucks can challenge the decision before the Democrat-majority NLRB.

A Starbucks spokesman said the company honored the NLRB process and maintains that its actions at the Seattle Roastery were consistent with workplace law.

“We have consistently encouraged our partners to exercise their right to vote in union elections and contend that this decision could undermine our ability to share factual information and our perspective with partners so that they can make an informed and balanced decision regarding union representation,” Starbucks spokesman Andrew Trull said in a statement.

The NLRB general counsel’s office, which prosecutes unfair labor practice cases, will likely appeal the judge’s dismissal of a charge related to mandatory anti-union meetings.

Giannopoulos rejected the company’s argument that the meetings were voluntary, but still ruled that they were legal under a 75-year-old NLRB decision permitting such gatherings, which are known as “captive audience meetings.”

NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo has argued that captive audience meetings are inherently unlawful. The board could use this case against Starbucks—or a dispute involving Amazon—to overturn longstanding precedent and ban those meetings.

The case is Siren Retail Corp. d/b/a Starbucks, N.L.R.B. A.L.J., Case 19-CA-290905, 1/31/23.

(Updated with Starbucks spokesman's statement.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Iafolla in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Laura D. Francis at; Genevieve Douglas at

Learn more about Bloomberg Law or Log In to keep reading:

Learn About Bloomberg Law

AI-powered legal analytics, workflow tools and premium legal & business news.

Already a subscriber?

Log in to keep reading or access research tools.