Bloomberg Law
Feb. 13, 2023, 9:59 PMUpdated: Feb. 14, 2023, 2:04 PM

Starbucks’ Philly Union Busting Violated the Law, NLRB Rules (2)

Robert Iafolla
Robert Iafolla

Starbucks Corp. illegally fired two workers and committed other unfair labor practices in a bid to disrupt a nascent organizing drive at two Philadelphia stores, the National Labor Relations Board ruled.

Starbucks’ violations of federal labor law included threatening, surveilling, and interrogating employees, prohibiting them from discussing complaints about managers or job conditions, and reducing work hours for those who supported the union, the NLRB said in Monday’s decision.

The Philadelphia case predates the massive, coast-to-coast organizing wave that has resulted in more than 275 Starbucks stores unionizing since December 2021. The NLRB’s ruling against the coffee chain could fuel its workers’ enthusiasm for more labor organizing.

Starbucks, which has denied any wrongdoing in the case, can challenge the decision in federal appeals court.

“We disagree with the decision and are considering all options to obtain a full legal review of the matter,” company spokesman Andrew Trull said in a statement.

The three-member NLRB panel—composed entirely of Democrats—ordered Starbucks to provide backpay and offer reinstatement to the two illegally fired workers.

The board rejected Starbucks’ argument that those two workers weren’t owed backpay and reinstatement because they made secret recordings in violation of company policy and Pennsylvania law. Starbucks said it would have fired them for that misconduct, but didn’t learn of their actions until the unfair labor practice case was underway.

The NLRB held that the evidence in the record establishes that the company knew about the recordings prior to discharging the workers, but did not sack them for that activity.

But even if Starbucks was unaware, it would still owe backpay and reinstatement because of labor law protections for employees who make recordings in the workplace as part of a concerted effort to improve working conditions, the board said.

“With both employees, their testimony demonstrates that their recording activity sought to document their conversations with management about terms and conditions of employment, including potential discipline, and to preserve evidence for any future employment-related actions that may arise,” according to the ruling.

Labor law safeguards for such activities trump both company policy and state law, the board said.

The case is Starbucks, N.L.R.B., Case 04-CA-252338, 2/13/23.

(Updated with company comment in fifth paragraph. Article originally published Feb. 13.)

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at; Rebekah Mintzer at

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