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Starbucks retaliated against pro-union staff, labor board alleges

                                Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for Starbucks’ employees union election on Dec. 9 in Buffalo, N.Y.


    Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for Starbucks’ employees union election on Dec. 9 in Buffalo, N.Y.

Starbucks Corp. violated federal labor law by putting union supporters under surveillance and retaliating against them, U.S. labor board prosecutors alleged in a complaint filed today.

The coffee chain “has been interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees” that have sought to exercise their rights, the National Labor Relations Board’s Phoenix regional director wrote in the filing on behalf of the agency’s general counsel. Starbucks denied the allegations.

“We’ve been consistent in denying any claims of anti-union activity,” Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said via email. “They are categorically false.”

The case is one of dozens pending around the country in which the union, Workers United, has brought allegations against the company. In an emailed statement from the union, Bill Whitmire, a Starbucks employee in Phoenix, said the complaint “is the first step in holding Starbucks accountable for its unacceptable behavior during the unionizing efforts in our store and stores around the country.”

Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, has prevailed in six out of the seven unionization votes held at corporate-run Starbucks sites in recent months, establishing a labor foothold at the company. The group has petitioned to represent workers at over a hundred more locations.

The regional director’s complaint alleges that management threatened workers by wrongly characterizing their communications with each other and with management about staffing issues as “inappropriate and negative” and citing the communication as a reason for punishing staff.

The company also illegally punished a union supporter by writing her up for a “previously tolerated medical absence” and ultimately suspending her, according to the filing. Starbucks forced out another pro-union employee by denying scheduling availability requests, according to the complaint.

Complaints issued by the labor board’s prosecutors are considered by agency judges, whose rulings can be appealed to the labor board’s members in Washington D.C., and from there into federal court. The NLRB can order policy changes or the reinstatement of fired workers, but is restricted from fining companies for violations of the law. The complaint asks that Starbucks management be required to attend a meeting with employees and a union representative present, at which the manager or a labor board agent reads a notice to employees about their rights.

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