Federal labor regulators accused Starbucks on Wednesday of illegally closing 23 stores to stifle union activity and tried to force the company to reopen them.
A complaint issued by a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board argued that Starbucks had closed the stores because its employees were participating in union activities or to discourage employees from doing so. At least seven of the 23 stores identified were unionized.
The agency's action is the latest in a series of accusations from federal officials that Starbucks has violated the law during a two-year labor campaign.
The case is scheduled to go before an administrative law judge next summer unless Starbucks resolves it sooner. In addition to asking the judge to order the stores to reopen, the complaint wants employees to be compensated for lost income or benefits and for other costs they incurred as a result of the closures.
“This complaint is the latest confirmation of Starbucks' determination to unlawfully oppose worker organizing,” Starbucks employee Mari Cosgrove said in a statement issued through a Workers United union spokesperson.
A Starbucks spokesperson said: “Each year, as a standard business activity, we evaluate the store portfolio” and typically open, close or modify stores. The company said it opened hundreds of new stores last year and closed more than 100, of which about 3 percent were unionized.
The union drive began in 2021 in the Buffalo, New York, area, where two stores unionized that December, before spreading across the country. More than 350 of the company's approximately 9,300 corporate-owned locations have unionized.
The labor board has issued more than 100 complaints covering hundreds of allegations of illegal behavior by Starbucks, including threats or retaliation against workers involved in union activities and failure to bargain in good faith. Administrative judges have ruled against the company more than 30 times, although the company has appealed those decisions to the full labor board in Washington. Judges have dismissed fewer than five of the complaints.
None of the unionized stores have negotiated a labor contract with the company and negotiation has largely stalled. Last week, Starbucks wrote to Workers United saying it wanted to resume negotiations.
According to Wednesday's complaint, Starbucks managers announced the closure of 16 stores in July 2022 and then announced several more closures over the coming months.
an administrative judge previously ruled that Starbucks had illegally closed a unionized store in Ithaca, New York, and ordered the reinstatement of workers with back pay, but the company appealed that decision.
The new complaint was issued the same day Starbucks released a non-confidential version of an outside assessment of whether its practices align with its stated commitment to labor rights. The shareholders of the company. had voted support the assessment in a non-binding vote whose results were announced in March.
The report's author, Thomas M. Mackall, a former management lawyer and labor relations officer at the food and facilities management company Sodexo, wrote that he “found no evidence of an 'anti-union manual' or instructions or training on how to violate American laws.”
But Mr. Mackall concluded that Starbucks officials involved in responding to the union drive did not seem to understand how the company Global Declaration of Human Rights could limit your response. The bill of rights commits Starbucks to respecting employees' freedom of association and participation in collective bargaining.
Mr. Mackall cited managers' “allegedly illegal promises and threats” and “allegedly discriminatory or retaliatory discipline and firings” as areas where Starbucks could improve.
In a letter linked to the report's release, the company's chairman and an independent director said the assessment was clear: “Starbucks has had no intention of deviating from the principles of freedom of association and the right to Collective negotiation”. At the same time, the letter adds, “there are things the company can and should do to improve its stated commitments and adherence to these important principles.”
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