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Judge Finds Starbucks Violated Labor Laws Hundreds of Times in Buffalo Alone

The judge has ordered Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to read a notice of the numerous violations to employees.

People walk past activists as they participate in an event dubbed the Un-Birthday Party and picket line for Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on July 19, 2022, in New York City.

On Wednesday, a judge issued a sweeping decision against Starbucks, finding that the company violated federal labor laws hundreds of times in its anti-union campaign in Buffalo, New York, where the workers’ union movement originated — a judgment that the union has hailed as historic.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) judge Michael A. Rosas found that Starbucks had violated a number of federal labor laws with its “reign of coercion,” illegally surveilling, interrogating, disciplining and firing pro-union workers, promising benefits to discourage unionization, tampering with workers’ schedules in response to worker organizing, and more.

These violations, compiled between 33 unfair labor practices charges filed by Starbucks Workers United, constituted “egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights,” Rosas wrote in the over 200-page decision.

In response to the violations, Rosas has ordered the company to carry out numerous remedies that are among the strongest allowed under labor law. The ruling orders Starbucks to reopen a Buffalo store that was closed in retaliation for the union effort; to bargain with the Camp Road store, which had voted against the union due to illegal tampering; to reinstate and give back pay to seven fired workers; and to repay dozens of employees whose wages were impacted due to retaliation from the company, including many of the union’s most prominent organizers, like Jaz Brisack and Michelle Eisen.

Rosas has also ordered the company to distribute a video of CEO Howard Schultz, who the decision finds had personally violated labor laws, reading or being present at a reading of a 13-page long notice pledging to refrain from further labor law violations. The company has suggested that it’s considering appealing the ruling, and has said that it believes its conduct was lawful.

According to the union, the case is “one of the biggest union-busting cases in the history” of the NLRB.

The news of this win is single handedly the most exciting thing that’s happened in this campaign thus far,” Buffalo barista Michael Sanabria said in a statement. “Having to reinstate all of these workers, reopen the first Starbucks location closed in the name of union-busting, and most importantly, post notices in every single store across the country for the duration of the Starbucks organizing campaign is such a massive win for us, and for the labor movement as a whole.”

“This is truly a historic ruling,” said Rochester Regional Joint Board of Workers United, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) manager Gary Bonadonna Jr. “We will continue to fight and hold billionaires like Howard Schultz accountable for their actions. We will not rest until every Starbucks worker wins the right to organize.”

The ruling comes as the company is also being forced to reckon with its anti-union actions in the political sphere. On Wednesday, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) announced that he is teeing up a vote for the committee to subpoena Schultz, which Sanders is confident will be successful. Sanders is seeking to force the CEO to testify before the committee later this month in a hearing about the company’s anti-union efforts.

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