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NLRB: Starbucks Must Recognize Union in Store After Violating Law Over 200 Times

Requests for bargaining orders are rare, and the move is a show of how egregious Starbucks’s union busting has been.

A protester waves a sign that reads 'Union' near the Country Club Plaza Starbucks store where dozens of Starbucks employees and union supporters protested alleged anti-union tactics by the company on March 3, 2022.

In a rare decision, a labor official has filed an order to force Starbucks to recognize a union in the first store to lose its union election, potentially undoing one of the company’s only wins in the roughly nine months of its workers’ union campaign.

Linda Leslie, Buffalo-based regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), argued that a union at the Camp Road location in Buffalo should be recognized and that the company should begin the bargaining process with the store’s workers, just as it has in unionized locations. Leslie is seeking a bargaining order, an uncommon move that the board only uses in the most egregious cases of union busting.

A bargaining order is one of the most forceful moves that the NLRB can take against an anti-union company, and stands in stark contrast to the otherwise weak remedies that the board has the option to pursue. The fact that the NLRB is seeking such a rare order is a show of the ferocity and recklessness with which Starbucks has been responding to the workers’ union campaign.

The filing states that “serious and substantial” misconduct “is such that there is only a slight possibility of traditional remedies erasing [the violations’] effects and conducting a fair election. Therefore, on balance, the employees’ sentiments regarding representation, having been expressed through authorization cards, would be protected better by issuance of a bargaining order for the Camp Road store.”

Indeed, workers said that the order could give them the union they had originally wanted. “When we filed for an election last fall, we had 85 percent support in our store,” said Williams Westlake, a Camp Road barista, in a statement. “Starbucks, in their pursuit of making sure not a single one of their 9000 locations would exercise its right to unionize, destroyed the democratic process.”

If a judge agrees to the order at a hearing on July 11, in which the labor official lists over 200 violations of labor laws, it would be a huge win for the union. Camp Road was one of the first three stores to have its election ballots counted in December. For months after the store lost its union election, it was the only loss for Starbucks Workers United; even now, with over 80 unionized stores and over 250 union filings, only roughly 10 other stores have voted against unionizing.

According to the order request, the company has retaliated against pro-union workers and organizers by banning workers from stores, cutting hours, issuing warnings and firing pro-union workers. The company denies all of the allegations in the filing.

Pro-union workers celebrated the filing, saying that they hope it will provide much-needed relief after the company’s harsh union busting.

“The NLRB choosing to pursue a bargaining order at Camp Road is nothing short of exceptional. The partners at this location have been subjected to some of the most aggressive union-busting seen in recent years,” said Gianna Reeve, a shift supervisor in the Camp Road store. “This is the first step for partners at my store to finally receive justice for what they have gone through.”

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