Federal Officials Say Starbucks Illegally Retaliated Against Pro-Union Workers

Federal labor officials issued a complaint against Starbucks on Tuesday accusing the coffee chain of illegally interfering with workers’ efforts to form a union.

A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board said in the filing that the company’s managers retaliated against pro-union employees in Arizona. One worker, Laila Dalton, was suspended while another, Alyssa Sanchez, eventually lost her job.

The complaint states that Starbucks “has been interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” under federal labor law. It alleges that Starbucks managers used a previously unenforced rule to punish Dalton and stopped granting Sanchez’s scheduling requests, leading to her termination. They also illegally surveilled workers, according to the complaint.

As a remedy, the labor board’s general counsel said Starbucks should have to notify its employees around the country that it violated the law and also make Sanchez whole for “consequential harm she incurred” at the hands of the company.

A Starbucks spokesperson denied the allegations in an emailed statement to HuffPost: “We’ve been consistent in denying any claims of anti-union activity. They are categorically false.”

So far the union campaign, known as Starbucks Workers United, has unionized six stores, most of them in the Buffalo, New York, area, and petitioned for elections at more than 100 others around the country. Workers are seeking to join the union Workers United, an affiliate of the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union.

Starbucks has gone to great lengths to try to stop the effort, corralling workers into anti-union meetings with managers and causing procedural holdups with the union elections. In recent weeks, the union has filed a slew of claims of unfair labor practices with the labor board, accusing the company of targeting union activists in an effort to thwart the organizing efforts.

The complaint filed by the labor board’s regional director on Tuesday means officials found merit in those particular allegations by the union, choosing to pursue a case against the company. Such cases are often settled before going to trial in front of an administrative law judge.

Bill Whitmire, a Starbucks barista in Phoenix, said in a statement through Starbucks Workers United that the company should apologize to Dalton and Sanchez, calling them “fantastic individuals of great character.”

“Today is the first step in holding Starbucks accountable for its unacceptable behavior during the unionizing efforts in our store and stores around the country,” Whitmire said.

Last month, Starbucks fired seven pro-union workers at a store in Memphis, Tennessee, saying they had violated company policy by bringing non-employees into their store outside of work hours. The union has filed charges saying Starbucks had illegally retaliated against those workers, but the labor board has not yet pursued a case.

The union also filed a separate charge this month accusing Starbucks of cutting the hours of pro-union workers around the country.

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