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Federal Judge Orders Starbucks Rehire Wrongfully Terminated Union Leader

The judge also ordered the company to stop threatening, interrogating or surveilling employees.

The Starbucks Coffee logo is seen on a cup in a photo taken on October 10, 2023.

A federal administrative judge ruled last week that Starbucks must rehire and provide back pay to a shift supervisor in Colorado who was fired in November 2022 due to “anti-union considerations.”

The judge found that Starbucks unlawfully terminated the shift supervisor, Alendra “’Len” Harris, and ordered the company to refrain from discharging or otherwise discriminating against, threatening, interrogating, or surveilling employees because of their union activities.

“It really hits different when a legal document tells you you were treated unjustly,” Harris told CBS News.

Harris was the main organizer who advocated for her store to unionize, making it the first Starbucks in Colorado to unionize. After the successful unionization campaign, Harris said that she had been the “main target” of a temporary anti-union manager that was onboarded after the staff unionized for better pay and working conditions.

“[I was warned that] an anti-union manager is gonna come in here, they’re going to drop the axe, they’re going to start really firing you for small infractions or things you didn’t know about, and lo and behold, after a month of working with her, that’s exactly what she started doing,” Harris told CBS News. “She started firing people for being a minute or two late, started firing people for dress code infractions.”

Harris filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in Denver asserting that she had been fired for union organizing. After a six-month investigation, the agency found that Harris had been unlawfully terminated by Starbucks.

“This is just one incident among many, many, many incidents of the company being actually held accountable, or at least legally liable, for their wrongdoings,” Harris told CBS News.

Starbucks is expected to file exceptions, or an appeal, challenging the administrative law judge’s decision. While the company has upheld that there is no evidence of wrongdoing in Harris’s termination, and that no “anti-union playbook” exists, the NLRB and other federal administrative law judges have found that Starbucks has a pattern of violating workers’ rights. In March, a federal judge found that the company had violated labor laws “hundreds of times” during a unionization campaign in Buffalo, New York. The Starbucks location in Buffalo was the first store to successfully unionize.

In just 18 months since Starbucks workers in Buffalo went public with their union campaign, more than 300 stores have voted to unionize.

“No one thought what we were doing in Buffalo was possible or that it would end up spreading so far and wide across the country,” Michelle Eisen, a Starbucks barista and union organizer, said in a statement. “Starbucks baristas are writing labor history, and I’m so proud we were able to show other partners what we could win if we stood together.”

Despite Starbucks’s extreme union-busting tactics, which have included closing stores, withholding raises and benefits from unionized workers, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz explicitly telling a pro-union worker to quit during a town hall in 2022, and delay tactics that have stalled contract negotiations, Starbucks workers across the country have continued to utilize creative strategies to bargain for better pay and working conditions. In recent months, the union has organized strikes, walk outs, and “sip in” protests to mobilize public support and pressure the company to bargain with the union in good faith.

Starbucks have responded to these tactics with increased retaliation. In October, Starbucks sued the union after it made a pro-Palestine post on social media saying that the union condemned the “occupation, displacement, state violence, apartheid, and threats of genocide Palestinians face.” The union responded with its own lawsuit, claiming that Starbucks was attempting to ramp up its “illegal anti-union campaign by falsely attacking the union’s reputation with workers and the public.”

Meanwhile, recent boycotts and protests of the company led by pro-Palestine and labor advocates have resulted in a $11 billion loss in the company’s value.

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