Why Starbucks Is Being Accused Of Retaliation Against Its Unionized Stores

The National Labor Relations Board has jurisdiction over all cases alleging National Labor Relations Act violations by private-sector employers with annual gross revenues of $500,000 or more (via NLRB). With annual gross revenues exceeding $29 billion, Starbucks is clearly within the NLRB's purview. Of course, it's already well aware, given that as of June 2, 2022, more than 170 outstanding cases had been filed against Starbucks with the NLRB, all of them alleging various violations of the Act, according to Bloomberg Law

The allegations have included illegal surveillance of employees, threats of retaliation to pro-union employees, and retaliatory action already taken, including reduction of work hours, removal of accommodations required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and termination of employment, both actual and constructive. Among these cases is the one Bloomberg Law characterizes as a massive consolidated complaint stemming from more than 200 alleged violations in the Buffalo, New York region alone. Starbucks recently emerged victorious in a case alleging three retaliatory firings at a Phoenix, Arizona store, but a related NLRB trial is still pending, which, of course, could go either way.

In the meantime, more and more Starbucks stores have filed to unionize. With the success rate among stores who've put the question to a vote standing at nearly 90%, per Bloomberg Law, the stakes are only getting higher for Starbucks management, especially as Starbucks now stands accused of retaliating against entire stores that have unionized or expressed a bona fide interest therein.

A New York Starbucks that unionized has now been shuttered

On April 8, the Starbucks store on Cornell University's College Avenue in Ithaca, New York, voted to unionize, along with all of the other stores in the Ithaca area. The union victory at the College Avenue store was particularly sweet for barista Evan Sunshine, who expressed to Ithaca.com his belief that this particular store had been hit particularly hard by union-busting tactics amid particularly passionate lobbying by its employees for an affirmative vote in favor of unionization. In a painful reversal of fortune, workers at the College Avenue store were informed by management on June 3 that the store would close permanently, effective June 9, per WENY News.

"Starbucks cited many reasons," Sunshine told WENY. said Evan Sunshine, a barista at the Starbucks on College Ave, but Sunshine believes the "implicit" reason is retaliation against the employees, who voted 19-1 in favor of unionizing. Although Starbucks gave College Ave employees the option of applying to work at other Starbucks stores, there was no guarantee of continued employment, per NPR. Besides, employees who are students at Cornell don't necessarily have access to cars, making the point moot for them anyway. Local government officials such as Ithaca 4th Ward's Alderman Patrick Mehler concur that the closure smells like union-busting. 

Thus far, Starbucks has resisted disclosing company data utilized in the company's decision-making and has not responded to NPR's request for clarification. Employees still hope for a re-opening. Stay tuned.

An Indiana Starbucks has seen workplace conditions deteriorate since filing with the NLRB

On June 2, 2022, a Clarksville, Indiana, Starbucks filed with the NLRB its intent to hold a union vote, per WFI. Before the workday ended, Starbucks management saw to it that all stress mats that were on the floor of the workspace for worker comfort and safety were ripped out and "thrown in the dumpster," according to employee Mila Wren, per Twitter. Wren and other employees at the Clarksville store are alleging this is the most recent in a series of actions taken by Starbucks management to intimidate workers into shying away from unionization efforts, according to Newsweek.

Starbucks disagrees that its actions are anti-union and attributes the disposal of the mats to their "poor condition." Starbucks also claims it has ordered new mats to replace the discarded ones. However, employees had not seen any such new mats by the time Newsweek reported the story on June 13. Newsweek is currently investigating whether the removal of the mats constitutes a safety violation under the federal and state law rubrics regarding worker safety. But the timing seems suspect to Wren and their coworkers and comes after a series of other actions taken by Starbucks management that they claim are in the nature of union-busting. These include bringing in apparently hostile new local management and the firing of a pro-union shift supervisor – one who, according to an employee, "had never had a single infraction." Again, stay tuned.