Starbucks Files NLRB Complaint Against Barista Union

Michelle Eisen, a barista at the Buffalo, NY, Elmwood Starbucks, the first Starbuck location to unionize, helps local Starbucks Workers United, employees of a local Starbucks, as they gather at a local union hall to vote for unionize or not, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Mesa, Arizona.

Ross D. Franklin | PA

Starbucks on Wednesday filed two complaints with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the union organizing its baristas violated federal labor laws.

It is the first time the coffee chain has been on the other side of charges of law-breaking behavior amid the union battle.

Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, has filed dozens of complaints against Starbucks with the NLRB, alleging the company unlawfully retaliated, harassed and fired organizers at coffee shops across the country.

The government agency also filed two lawsuits against Starbucks alleging that in Phoenix it threatened employees and fired organizers in retaliation. Starbucks has denied all anti-union allegations.

More than 200 coffee chain locations have filed paperwork to unionize under Workers United since August. To date, 24 stores have voted in favor of unionization, and only two sites have so far voted against.

In complaints filed with the NLRB, Starbucks alleges that Workers United “illegally restricted and coerced partners in exercising their rights,” citing incidents at two cafes in Denver and Phoenix.

Starbucks says in filings that organizers physically blocked entrances and exits to those stores, made threats and physically intimidated baristas who did not support the union campaign.

The complaint alleges organizers also shouted profanities at patrons and hit cars with a picket sign as they attempted to enter and exit the Denver venue. The complaint does not specify when this incident occurred, but workers at the Denver coffee shop named in the filing staged a strike March 11 to protest what they said were unfair working conditions.

Starbucks Workers United did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The Phoenix location mentioned in the filings is the same cafe that is at the center of the NLRB’s complaints against Starbucks.

“We are doing this to protect the physical safety and emotional well-being of our partners and to make it very clear that the behavior we are seeing from some union organizers is not acceptable and we will not tolerate it,” said Rossann Williams, Chairman. of Starbucks’ North American operations, wrote in a letter to employees viewed by CNBC.

“I want every partner to know that we respect and honor all of their rights – the right to choose a union and the right to choose to speak for themselves,” Williams added.

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