NLRB: Starbucks Must Negotiate with Union in Seattle

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. December 5, 2022
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a Starbucks cafe

​On Nov. 30, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Starbucks violated the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to recognize and bargain with a union as the exclusive collective-bargaining representative of a unit in Seattle. The NLRB ordered Starbucks to bargain with the union. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

Seattle Cafe Affected

The decision ordered Starbucks subsidiary Siren Retail Corp. to negotiate with the new union at its Seattle Roastery restaurant, the second in the city to organize. Employees at the cafe voted in April to join Starbucks Workers United. This union has prevailed in elections at approximately 250 Starbucks' sites over the past year.

The company contested the union's victory because the government held an election by mail ballot rather than an in-person election. Starbucks plans to appeal the ruling.

(Bloomberg) and (Capitol Hill Seattle Blog)

'New Outside Force'

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who returned to lead Starbucks in April but is stepping down from the top spot in 2023, has called the unionization efforts a "new outside force that's trying desperately to disrupt our company."

(The Hill)

Store Closures

Citing safety issues, Starbucks recently announced it's closing a store in Seattle that was the first to unionize—not the first time the company has made a similar announcement. "We are beginning to close stores" because of safety issues, Schultz said in July. "This is just the beginning. There are going to be many more." The union characterized the closure as unlawful retaliation.

(CNN)

NLRB Filed Lawsuit Against Starbucks

The NLRB filed a lawsuit Nov. 30 claiming that Starbucks retaliated against unionizing workers at the company's store in Great Neck, N.Y. The lawsuit claimed that workers trying to organize were threatened with loss of income, loss of opportunities for promotion, and loss of holiday time and benefits. The store's lead organizer was fired in July. The store lost a union election in a 5-6 vote in May, and the union filed objections to the election results.

A Starbucks spokesman stated, "We have fully honored the process laid out by the National Labor Relations Board and have encouraged our partners to exercise their right to vote in union elections. In May 2022, partners at our Great Neck store in New York made clear their decision to maintain a direct relationship with Starbucks. We strongly disagree with the merits of today's filing and look forward to sharing the facts and addressing inaccuracies as we work side-by-side with our partners to reinvent Starbucks for the future."

(Long Island Business News) and (Patch)

Union Drive at Starbucks Has Lost Momentum

The number of Starbucks stores petitioning to hold union elections has dropped dramatically in recent months. The flood of activity in the first half of the year, with a high of 71 petitions filed in March, gave way to a summer lull, with eight petitions filed in August. The NLRB has investigated more than 325 unfair labor practice charges brought by Workers United.

"We respect our partners' right to organize but believe the best future is created directly with partners and not a third party," company spokesman Reggie Borges said in a statement.

(Fortune), (NPR) and (SHRM Online)

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