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Starbucks Says NLRB Officials Aided Union Effort in Elections

Aug. 15, 2022, 3:09 PM

Starbucks Corp., facing a growing union push across its cafes, is appealing to the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that government employees interfered with and influenced election results in certain stores.

The coffee company said in a letter to the labor board that NLRB personnel coordinated secretly with Workers United union agents to arrange for in-person voting during mail-in elections. The letter also says that NLRB officials gave union agents real-time, confidential vote counts that allowed them to then target certain Starbucks staff who hadn’t yet cast a ballot, thus affecting election results.

“In light of these types of misconduct by NLRB personnel, we request the board immediately suspend all Starbucks mail-ballot elections nationwide,” Starbucks said in the letter dated Monday. The company expects the suspension to continue “until there has been a thorough investigation, the outcome has been made public, and safeguards to prevent future misconduct have been implemented.”

The company also asked the NLRB to have all future union elections conducted manually, and in person.

“This is Starbucks yet again attempting to distract attention away from their unprecedented antiunion campaign, including firing over 75 union leaders across the country, while simultaneously trying to halt all union elections,” Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, said in an emailed statement.

The NLRB didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Latest Move

The complaint is the latest in Starbucks’s moves to defang a mounting organization effort across its North American locations. Meanwhile, Starbucks interim Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz is facing shaky sales results in the key growth market of China due to ongoing Covid-19 government restrictions.

The Seattle-based company raised wages to an average of $17 an hour across the US as of the beginning of August. Starbucks also is bumping pay further for managers, and more tenured staff. But it hasn’t been enough so far to stop the union push, which is building across the US with more than 150 stores voting to unionize with Workers United.

Starbucks has filed a number of unsuccessful appeals and complaints with the agency. In July, an NLRB regional director dismissed a complaint Starbucks had filed alleging threatening and coercive behavior by Workers United at a rally in Arizona. The agency official wrote that an “investigation revealed that no demonstrators touched any employees or customers, or their vehicles.”

The chain has hired a record number of employees so far this fiscal year, and is trying to convince them that they will be better off without a union. Starbucks is investing in worker training, new equipment and other operational changes to make jobs easier on its baristas. The moves, along with pay increases, total $1 billion, the company has said.

Starbucks shares were up 0.3% at 11:07 a.m. in New York. The stock was down 25% this year through Aug. 12, compared with a 10% decline in the S&P 500 Index.

--With assistance from Josh Eidelson.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Leslie Patton in Chicago at lpatton5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
John J. Edwards III at jedwardsiii1@bloomberg.net

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.