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Demonstrators protest Starbucks union-busting

Demonstrators hold signs while protesting in front of a Starbucks location in New York City on April 14, 2022. (Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

'Enough Is Enough,' Declares Sanders After NLRB Says Starbucks Targeted Union Workers

"Howard Schultz, the billionaire CEO of Starbucks, must end his war against his employees, recognize the union, and negotiate a first contract," said the Vermont progressive.

Kenny Stancil

"Enough is enough."

That's how Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) responded after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Wednesday accused Starbucks of unlawfully withholding raises and benefits from thousands of workers at unionized and unionizing shops in an effort to repress a nationwide organizing campaign.

"Howard Schultz's union-busting knows no bounds."

"Howard Schultz, the billionaire CEO of Starbucks, must end his war against his employees, recognize the union, and negotiate a first contract," Sanders wrote on social media.

To date, baristas at 230 of the coffee giant's locations across the U.S. have voted to join Workers United since late 2021, when an initial victory was claimed in Buffalo.

As first reported by the Washington Post, the NLRB complaint "seeks back payments and benefits for unionized workers since May and to require Schultz to read a statement to workers about their union rights. The board, which is tasked with enforcing labor laws that protect union rights, said Starbucks' denial of benefits and raises to union workers was intended to discourage union organizing."

Richard Bensinger, a lead organizer with Starbucks Workers United, said that "this is a historic triumph for democracy and the rule of law that a billionaire CEO must apologize to employees for abusing them and violating their rights as well as mak[e] them whole."

Starbucks disputed the NLRB's latest allegation.

"We've been clear in that we are following NLRB rules when it comes to unilaterally giving benefits," Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesperson, told the Post via email.

The corporation argued in a July press release that it is legally prohibited from increasing wages and benefits at unionized or unionizing shops until it agrees to a new contract with Workers United.

"Partners still have access to all Starbucks benefits already in place when the petition was filed, but any changes to your wages, benefits, and working conditions that Starbucks establishes after that time would not apply to you and would have to be bargained," the statement says.

But Schultz has openly refused to work in good faith with Starbucks Workers United and largely prevented collective bargaining from happening. Of the 230 locations that have voted to unionize since December, just three have started contract negotiations with Starbucks.

By denying unionized and unionizing employees access to the higher wages and better benefits now provided to their non-unionized counterparts, Starbucks has violated the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRB contends, referring to the New Deal-era law that protects workers' rights to participate in union activity free from interference, coercion, and retaliation.

In May, Schultz announced that Starbucks would raise pay and expand training at more than 10,000 stores nationwide. However, he said during an earnings call at the time, "we do not have the same freedom to make these improvements at locations that have a union or where union organizing is underway."

As the Post reported Wednesday:

In August, nonunion Starbucks workers who had been employed since May 2 saw their wages increase to $15 an hour or by 3%, whichever was higher. Employees with between two and five years of experience received a raise of at least 5%, or an increase to 5% above the starting rate in their market, whichever was greater. Nonunion baristas with more than five years of experience received raises of at least 7% or 10% above the starting rate in their market, whichever was greater.

This year, Schultz stated that employees who had not sought union benefits would receive access to the chain's relaunched coffee expertise program, known as "Coffee Masters." Nonunion stores would see new investments in equipment and technology and enhanced tipping options for customers. Further communications stated that the dress code would be updated to allow more flexibility on piercings and tattoos, but only for only nonunion workers. According to the labor board, these benefits have been withheld from unionized workers since May.

The complaint alleges that the company has also withheld faster sick time accrual benefits, career growth opportunities, and expanded credit card tips from workers at unionized stores.

If Starbucks does not attempt to settle the case, an administrative law judge is scheduled to hold a hearing on the corporation's potential National Labor Relations Act violation on October 25.

Schultz and other top brass have gone to great lengths to crush the ongoing organizing wave led by workers who make Starbucks' huge profits possible, with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the House Labor Caucus, saying Thursday that the billionaire CEO's "union-busting knows no bounds."

In addition to implementing a punitive and discriminatory compensation scheme, the coffee giant has fired more than 85 union leaders in recent months, according to Starbucks Workers United. The company has also completely shut down some unionized shops.

Last week, a federal judge ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven pro-union baristas who were fired from their store in Memphis earlier this year, siding with the NLRB's motion challenging the wrongful termination. Schultz has vowed to appeal the ruling.

According to The Guardian, the NLRB "has issued 21 official complaints against Starbucks, encompassing 81 charges and 548 allegations of labor law violations that are currently under review."

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), the other House Labor Caucus co-chair, wrote Thursday on social media that "Starbucks—a multi-billion dollar corporation—is squeezing its workers to stop them from exercising their legally protected rights."

"This is worker intimidation at its worst," he continued. "We must pass the No Tax Breaks for Union Busting Act and fully fund the NLRB."

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