Starbucks committed several violations of federal labor laws at 21 Buffalo, New York-area stores between 2021 and 2022 as employees launched a highly publicized unionization effort, Michael A. Rosas, an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board, held in a decision Wednesday.
In the 200-plus page ruling, Rosas said Starbucks violated Section 8(a) of the National Labor Relations Act by, among other things, engaging in surveillance and photography of employees participating in union activity; prohibiting employees from discussing wages with one another; and restricting employees from posting union literature at stores which permitted the posting of other types of literature.
Rosas said Starbucks engaged in other tactics to combat employees’ unionization attempts, such as hiring and temporarily transferring employees to stores with upcoming union votes in order to dilute union support and threatening to withhold new benefits from employees if they elected the union to be their bargaining representative. In response to union activity, Starbucks reduced the operational hours of stores, temporarily closed stores, extended the closure of stores indefinitely and permanently closed one store, Rosas added.
Starbucks also discriminatorily discharged or constructively discharged seven named employees because they engaged in union activity or supported the union, per the decision. Rosas ordered Starbucks to offer the employees reinstatement and compensate them for any loss of earnings and other benefits.
“Because of the Respondent’s egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights, I also find it necessary to issue a broad Order requiring the Respondent to cease and desist from infringing in any other manner on rights guaranteed employees by Section 7 of the Act,” Rosas said.
The judge ordered Starbucks to issue postings at all of its U.S. facilities, reopen one closed store and refrain from retaliating against employees to discourage employee union support by reducing the operational hours of its stores or by closing them temporarily or permanently. Rosas also ordered interim CEO Howard Schultz and Senior VP of U.S. Operations Denise Nelsen to read a notice and explanation of rights to Buffalo-area employees, or have an NLRB agent do so in their presence.
In an email to HR Dive, a Starbucks spokesperson said the decision and remedies ordered by Rosas were “inappropriate” and that the individuals cited in the decision “were separated following clear violations of policies outlined in our Partner Guide — not related to, or in retaliation for, any concerted activities, as the decision contends.”
The spokesperson added that Starbucks is “considering all options to obtain further legal review.”
“We maintain that actions taken at our Buffalo area stores were lawful and in alignment with established partner policies,” the spokesperson said. “Starbucks respects our partners’ rights to organize and engage in lawful union activities, has fully honored the process laid out by the NLRB and has worked to ensure that partners can trust the process is fair and their voice is heard.”
Buffalo-area Starbucks employees began unionization efforts in earnest in August 2021, when workers from three different stores filed a petition with NLRB to hold union elections. That December marked the first area store to vote in favor of unionization, spurring similar efforts at Starbucks locations nationwide.
In the months following these efforts, Starbucks controversially chose not to offer expanded employee benefits to stores that voted to unionize, with Schultz stating that federal law prohibited it from doing so.
Rosas’ decision was published during the same week that a group of Starbucks corporate employees signed a petition and issued a letter requesting, in part, that the company agree to adopt a neutral stance as well as a set of fair election principles at unionizing stores.