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Labor Board Finds Starbucks Illegally Retaliated Against Union Organizers

The complaint came just one day before Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson announced that he’s stepping down.

Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Annual Meeting of Shareholders in Seattle, Washington on March 22, 2017.

For the first time in Starbucks workers’ union campaign, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found that the company has taken illegal moves in its fight against the union, including retaliation against workers for organizing in Phoenix, Arizona.

In response to a petition filed by Starbucks Workers United in January, the NLRB found that the company fired one worker, Alyssa Sanchez, while suspending another Laila Dalton, for their union organizing activity.

The company suspended Dalton and fired Sanchez “to discourage employees from engaging in these or other concerted activities,” NLRB regional director Cornele A. Overstreet wrote, adding that the company’s actions against Dalton shows it “has been interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” by federal labor laws.

Managers illegally surveilled workers and suspended Dalton for previously unenforced rules, the complaint said. If a judge is able to confirm the labor board’s allegations, then Starbucks will have to hold meetings and post notices informing employees of their legal right to form a union at the Phoenix location. It will also have to reimburse Sanchez for lost wages.

“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,” said Bill Whitmire, a barista at Dalton and Sanchez’s location. “Laila and Alyssa were traumatized and their hope is that no other Partner EVER has to go through what they have gone through.”

In spite of the complaint, a leaked video uncovered by More Perfect Union found that Starbucks is still disciplining Dalton, who says that managers are “out to get [her]” because of her role as an organizer.

The complaint came just one day before a huge shake up at the company. CEO Kevin Johnson announced on Wednesday that he’s stepping down and that former CEO Howard Schultz would step in in the interim. In a statement, Johnson said that he had been planning to retire when the pandemic ended.

In an interview on CNBC on Wednesday, Starbucks board chair Mellody Hobson said that Schultz has a “connection with our people” and that he is “singularly capable” of engaging with workers. However, as More Perfect Union has noted, Schultz is vehemently anti-union and wrote in a memoir in the 90s that employees don’t need a union if they have “faith in me and my motives.”

Schultz also traveled to Buffalo, New York, earlier in the workers’ union campaign in order to discourage employees from unionizing. In the speech, thbizarrely compared the company to Holocaust survivors, painting the company as unselfish despite that the workers were unionizing for better working conditions and liveable wages.

“Today, we learned that Kevin Johnson will be stepping down as Starbucks CEO & Howard Schultz will return as interim CEO,” Starbucks Workers United wrote on Twitter. “We encourage Howard Schultz, who has been a leader of Starbucks’ anti-union campaign, to put union-busting behind him and embrace Starbucks’ unionized future.”

Major investors have been urging Hobson and Johnson to take a neutral stance toward the union and have expressed frustration that Starbucks has been allegedly retaliating against workers. Union busting has been a bad look for the company; over the last six months or so, the company’s stock has trended down despite record high revenues.

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