A Judge Is Dropping The Hammer On Starbucks' Union Busting

Scrutiny, criticism, and pressure have been mounting against Starbucks over the two years as more and more employees in locations across the country vote to unionize. Starbucks leadership has kept pace by increasing their efforts to crush the unions and to seemingly punish and intimidate employees (via NPR). Employees involved in union activity have seen their raises, benefits, and even jobs eliminated as punitive measures under the direction of CEO Howard Schultz.

This week saw a huge win for Starbucks employees and a major blow to Schultz and the company in a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency tasked with protecting the rights of both union and non-union workers. In his ruling, NLRB Judge Michael Rosas determined that Starbucks had engaged in "egregious and widespread misconduct" against its employees. Rosas' order listed out a series of "cease and desist" instructions to end the company's retaliatory practices, including benefits given only to employees who did not engage in union activities, monitoring employee conversations through their work headsets, refusal to negotiate with unions, and permanently closing or reducing hours at unionized stores. 

The case against Starbucks was first filed by the Workers United union in 2021 on behalf of employees working in Buffalo and Rochester, NY locations. 

The list of reparations required of Starbucks is lengthy

In his NLRB ruling, Judge Michael Rosas has given Starbucks a long list of tasks intended to repair the damage created by the unfair labor practices and to prevent them from happening in the future. Rosas ordered that the company reinstate seven employees who were wrongfully fired, and to compensate them for lost pay. Starbucks must "make whole" several other employees named in the order by reimbursing them for back pay, removing verbal and written warnings from employee files, and honoring requests for transfers. 

The company will also be required to post a notice in all Starbucks locations listing out the violations and confirming employee rights. And as an additional chastening, Judge Rosas has ordered CEO Howard Schultz and Senior Vice President of Operations Denise Nelson to read the notice in person at employee meetings and in a recorded version. 

The troubles for Starbucks and Schultz are far from over. One of the company's most vocal critics, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted this week that Schultz will be subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee. Sanders cites the hundreds of complaints and charges made against the company, and Schultz's refusal to cooperate voluntarily with Congress. "A multi-billion dollar corporation like Starbucks cannot continue to break federal labor law with impunity," Sanders tweets." The time has come to hold Starbucks and Mr. Schultz accountable.