Why The US Government Is Suing Starbucks

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said "there is power in numbers," per ThoughtCo, he was referencing the truism that when otherwise powerless individuals unite in the name of an ideal, their collective strength may be enough to subvert even the most trenchant tyranny. This is the essence of democracy. It's also the reason labor unions were granted the legal right to exist in 1935 and, more importantly, to compel their related employers to bargain with them in good faith on behalf of their member employees, per Workplace Fairness

On the other hand, the power in numbers applies also to money, as Starbucks clearly understands as it leverages its own considerable numbers to fight what it seems to believe is the good fight against its employees' efforts to unionize, per Time. The company's efforts include rehiring famously anti-union two-time Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at the same moment in history when more than 140 company-owned Starbucks locations had initiated full-on efforts to unionize (via Vice). 

The coffee chain has devoted some of its money-throwing to initiating two lawsuits against Worker's United (per CNBC). It is also defending some 80 lawsuits brought by the union (per NPR). Now, Starbucks will also be drawing on its "numbers" to fight a lawsuit brought by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for its purported treatment of pro-union workers (per the NLRB).

The National Labor Relations Board is suing Starbucks for alleged retaliation against union organizers

On April 20, Starbucks filed suit with the NLRB, alleging Workers United employed illegal tactics in organizing Starbucks employees, per CNBC. Two days later, the NLRB turned around and sued Starbucks, alleging the company engaged in unfair labor practices by firing three employees involved in unionizing efforts. According to a press release from the NLRB, on April 22, "NLRB Region 28 Regional Director Cornele Overstreet petitioned in United States District Court for injunctive relief for victims of unfair labor practices in three cases involving Starbucks retaliating against members of the union organizing committee." 

The aims of NLRB's petition include "the immediate reinstatement" of the three terminated employees and having disciplinary actions removed from their records. "Employees have the fundamental right to choose whether or not they want to be represented by the union without restraint or coercion by their employer," Overstreet stated. "Immediate injunctive relief is necessary to ensure that [Starbucks] does not profit nationwide from its illegal conduct," among other things. 

For its part, Starbucks told NPR that it "wholly disagree[s]" with the NLRB's allegations. The "partners," as Starbucks refers to its employees, "were terminated because they violated our established policies," a Starbucks spokesperson stated. "A partner's interest in union representation does not exempt them from the standards we've put in place to protect partners, customers, and the communities that we serve."