NLRB Seeks Nationwide Court Order Barring Starbucks From Firing Union Activists

A federal labor official filed a petition in federal court Tuesday requesting a “nationwide cease and desist order” against Starbucks to block the company from continuing to fire pro-union workers in its efforts to block their unionization campaign, which has seen remarkable success over the past year.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Regional Director Elizabeth Kerwin has requested that a court order Starbucks to stop “discharging employees at any of its stores in the United States and its territories for supporting the Union or any other labor organization.”

Such an action would “mitigate the chilling effect” that firings have had and show employees that “the kind of violations engaged in thus far by Starbucks during ongoing nationwide organizing drives will no longer be tolerated,” Kerwin wrote.

The request was made alongside an injunction requesting that the company reinstate and compensate Hannah Whitbeck, a Starbucks worker from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who was fired by the company earlier this year after she reached out to the union about organizing. Labor officials say that Whitbeck’s firing was illegal, made in retaliation for her support of the union.

This is the fourth injunction that the NLRB has filed against Starbucks for firing pro-union workers, according to the agency; it has also filed for Starbucks to reinstate and make whole workers in Buffalo, Phoenix and Memphis, the last request of which was granted by a judge in August.

“[T]he [National Labor Relations Act] provides for immediate injunctive relief in situations just like this one,” Kerwin said in a statement. “We are asking the Court to swiftly grant the injunction so that the employee Starbucks unlawfully fired can return to work and all Starbucks employees nationally can effectively exercise their right to engage in union activities.”

According to Starbucks Workers United, Starbucks has fired over 150 pro-union workers across the country as the union comes up on the first anniversary of its successful vote to unionize the first Starbucks store. The worker terminations add up to nearly one firing per every two stores that have filed to unionize. Starbucks denies that it has fired or retaliated against workers for union activity.

“Workers across the country are organizing to make Starbucks a better company and place to work,” the union said, per Vice. “Yet Starbucks has responded by threatening, bullying, and firing over 150 union leaders across the country.”

“We look forward to seeing Starbucks held accountable and look forward to winning our contract,” the union continued.

NLRB regional offices have so far issued 48 complaints against Starbucks. These complaints cover 155 charges of illegal union busting, ranging from anti-union guidelines in the company’s employee handbook to denying raises and benefits to union members to CEO Howard Schultz’s comments telling pro-union workers to “work somewhere else” if they “hate Starbucks so much.”