Bloomberg Law
May 6, 2022, 11:57 PM

U.S. Labor Board Accuses Starbucks of Retaliatory Firings (3)

Josh Eidelson
Josh Eidelson
Bloomberg News

Starbucks Corp. violated federal law by firing, threatening, and carrying out surveillance on union activists in New York, U.S. labor board prosecutors alleged in a complaint.

The agency’s Buffalo regional director said in a filing Friday that the company illegally interfered with employees’ rights by firing six and retaliating against others. The allegations were brought to the agency by Workers United, the labor group that has prevailed in votes at more than 50 of the company’s U.S. stores, beginning with a landmark victory last December in Buffalo.

Starbucks, in an emailed statement, disputed the claims and said the complaint represented only the start of a litigation process.

“We believe the allegations contained in the complaint are false, and we look forward to presenting our evidence,” spokesperson Reggie Borges wrote. The company has said it complies with labor laws and that claims of anti-union activity are “categorically false.”

The NLRB complaint seeks remedies including the reinstatement of the employees who were allegedly illegally fired or forced out, along with financial compensation and apology letters.

The agency’s general counsel is also seeking a videotaped meeting with employees, union and government representatives, and either Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz, North America President Rossann Williams, or both. At the meeting, either a company executive or a labor board official would read a notice about employees’ rights.

Mandatory Training

Additionally, the NLRB wants mandatory training for Starbucks managers about workers’ rights, and a requirement that the union get access to company bulletin boards, employees’ contact information and equal time to address workers.

The company “is finally being held accountable for the union-busting rampage they went on,” one of the fired employees, Danny Rojas, said in an emailed statement provided by the union.

Complaints issued by NLRB regional directors are considered by agency judges, whose rulings can be appealed to labor board members in Washington and from there into federal court. The labor board lacks the authority to impose punitive damages for violations of the law, but its current general counsel, Joe Biden appointee Jennifer Abruzzo, has directed its prosecutors to “utilize every possible tool” at their disposal to remedy wrongdoing, such as making companies pay for health insurance costs and credit card fees that fired workers incur, along with back pay.

Labor Board prosecutors have also issued complaints accusing Seattle-based Starbucks of illegally firing activists in Arizona and Tennessee. In a separate complaint this week, the agency’s Phoenix regional director alleged that Starbucks’ employee rules, which include prohibitions on responding to reporters or sharing “private company information” on social media, illegally interfere with workers’ rights.

Starbucks has also filed claims of its ownwith the NLRB, alleging unfair practices by labor organizers toward workers and what it calls “an increase in nefarious behavior.” The coffee chain says individuals associated with Workers United limited access to stores in Arizona and Colorado, threatened workers for not supporting the labor drive, and shouted profanities and pounded on windows.

(Updates with Starbucks comment starting in third paragraph.)

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Jonathan Roeder, Rob Golum

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