Nov 16, 2022
The National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday asked a federal court in Michigan for a "nationwide cease and desist order" prohibiting Starbucks from firing workers for union organizing.
Federal prosecutors also asked the court to reinstate and reimburse a pro-union worker who was fired from one of the coffee giant's Ann Arbor stores and to require a high-ranking Starbucks official to publicly inform the store's employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act to pursue representation and collectively bargain for better conditions without fear of retaliation.
Starbucks managers fired Hannah Whitbeck on April 11, days after Michigan news outlet MLive published an article about Starbucks workers' nationwide organizing campaign that quoted Whitbeck multiple times, according to the preliminary injunction motion filed by NLRB Region 7 prosecutors.
The firing also came months after Whitbeck reached out to Workers United--the union behind the organizing push--wore a button bearing the union's name to work, spoke to co-workers about the campaign, and posted about her support for discharged Starbucks employees in Memphis, Tennessee, the filing said.
The same day Whitbeck was fired, Workers United filed an unfair labor practice charge against Starbucks to challenge the move. The NLRB's general counsel later consolidated the case with another unfair labor practice charge against the company, and on October 7, NLRB Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey Carter found Starbucks unlawfully fired Whitbeck for participating in union activity.
Employees at the Starbucks location that discharged Whitbeck voted to be represented by Workers United on June 15, but after Whitbeck and other employees left, the union had trouble finding out who the new employees were, prosecutors said.
"Starbucks will achieve its unlawful goals of purging the Ann Arbor store of the union's leadership and crushing employee activism in Michigan and nationwide," the prosecutors wrote. "In the process, Starbucks will irreparably harm the statutory rights of its employees, frustrating the board's remedial power, and thwarting the intent of Congress."
In a Tuesday statement, NLRB Region 7 Director Elizabeth Kerwin said, "We are asking the court to swiftly grant the injunction so that the employee Starbucks unlawfully fired can return to work and all Starbucks employees nationally can effectively exercise their right to engage in union activities."
The new petition marks the fourth time this year that the NLRB has sought a preliminary injunction against Starbucks. Prosecutors previously asked courts to mandate that the corporation rehire pro-union workers who were terminated from stores in Memphis, Phoenix, and Buffalo, and halt unfair labor practices.
But as VICEreported Wednesday, "[R]equesting a national prohibition on firing employees for supporting union efforts marks a significant escalation in the labor board's attempts to rein in Starbucks' alleged union-busting."
Starbucks Workers United called the request for a nationwide injunction a "huge victory for workers."
According to the union, the coffee chain has illegally terminated more than 150 workers in retaliation for organizing.
Starbucks "has repeatedly and consistently denied those claims," VICE noted, but "a former Starbucks manager in the Buffalo area testified under oath in August that he was encouraged by higher-ups to scrutinize the record of a longtime pro-union employee to find 'something in there we can use against her,' and to ensure a manager was always working and able to discourage employees from talking about the union."
A federal judge in Tennessee recently ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven pro-union baristas who were fired in Memphis. That ruling came several weeks after an Arizona judge dismissed the NLRB's request for injunctive relief in Phoenix. In Buffalo, meanwhile, litigation has been paused since last month, when a New York judge permitted Workers United to appeal his contentious ruling allowing Starbucks to subpoena the union and employees.
The NLRB has also 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. In addition, the company has completely shut down some unionized shops, including as recently as Tuesday in Portland, Maine.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) blasted Starbucks for "blatantly union-busting at one of the busiest stores in my district." Describing the move as "despicable," Pingree called for a "full NLRB investigation now."
\u201c.@Starbucks told me personally that the chain \u201cremains committed to good faith negotiation and satisfying all collective bargaining obligations.\u201d Now they are BLATANTLY union-busting at one of the busiest stores in my district. Despicable. We need a full @NLRB investigation now!\u201d— Congresswoman Chellie Pingree \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8 \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@Congresswoman Chellie Pingree \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8 \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6) 1668546341
Baristas at 264 of the coffee giant's roughly 9,000 locations have voted to join Workers United since December, when an initial victory was claimed in Buffalo. Fewer than 60 stores have lost an election.
But interim CEO Howard Schultz has openly refused to work in good faith with the union and largely prevented collective bargaining from moving forward. Of the 264 shops that have voted to unionize in 36 states since late 2021, just three started contract negotiations with Starbucks prior to October, though more meetings were expected to start last month.
The NLRB has issued dozens of formal complaints against Starbucks in the past year, encompassing hundreds of allegations of labor law violations.
Earlier this year, House Labor Caucus co-chair Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) said 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 added. "We must pass the No Tax Breaks for Union Busting Act and fully fund the NLRB."
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