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Starbucks Asks for All Union Elections in Its Stores to Be Temporarily Halted

Starbucks alleges that union elections have been unfairly skewed against the company.

Activists 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.

With over 200 unionized stores and dozens of pending union elections, Starbucks has requested that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) suspend all union elections within the company, a move that the union says is “absurd.”

In a letter that Starbucks sent on Monday, which is cosigned by a legal counsel from notorious union-busting firm Littler Mendelson, the company alleges that the NLRB colluded to give organizers privileged information about a union election at a store in Overland Park, Kansas, and allowed employees at that store to vote in person at NLRB offices during a mail-in ballot election. The company says that it’s gotten this information through an internal NLRB source.

The company asks that the hearing on challenged ballots from the store’s election, which is slated for Tuesday, be delayed. They are also requesting that elections be halted temporarily until the NLRB investigates the allegations, that the staffers who allegedly helped the union be disciplined, and that all ongoing and future elections be conducted in person. The company argues that this has happened in regions beyond that of the Overland Park store.

Starbucks Workers United condemned the letter, saying that it is yet another instance of the company attempting to quell the union campaign.

“This is Starbucks yet again attempting to distract attention away from their unprecedented anti-union campaign, including firing over 75 union leaders across the country, while simultaneously trying to halt all union elections,” the union wrote in a statement. Union leader Michelle Eisen said that the fact that Starbucks would request that elections be delayed while claiming to stand up for voting rights is “hypocrisy at its finest.”

“Unfortunately, it’s now in vogue for the losers of some elections nationwide to attempt to reverse elections by any means they think are necessary, and Starbucks is taking a page out of that book,” the union added, noting that it was “odd” for Starbucks to send its letter just one day before the Kansas hearing is set to begin.

Indeed, labor experts say that the goal of the letter is to delay elections, which would give the company more time to dissuade workers from voting “yes,” throw the NLRB’s legitimacy into question, and potentially sow suspicion between workers.

Spokesperson Kayla Blado says that the NLRB will be “carefully and objectively” reviewing Starbucks’s challenge, adding that the “agency has well-established processes to raise challenges regarding the handling of both election matters and unfair labor practice cases.”

Though Starbucks claims in its letter that union elections have been skewed against the company due to misconduct, the union has decried what it says are the many illegal union-busting practices that the company has waged against workers since the start of their campaign last year. The company has fired over 75 pro-union workers and discriminatorily given wage raises to all stores except for unionizing ones — moves that the union says are illegal.

As a result, there are currently 284 unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks; the NLRB, which is in the process of prosecuting the company, has issued 16 complaints against Starbucks in total. These complaints include findings by the agency that the company violated federal labor laws more than 200 times during the union’s initial push in Buffalo and 500 times in total.

On the other hand, there are two open filings with the NLRB against Starbucks Workers United, and earlier this month, the NLRB dismissed Starbucks’ allegation that union organizers in Phoenix had blocked store entrances and made threats during a rally this spring.

Meanwhile, the company appears to be delaying bargaining with already unionized stores for their first contracts. Of the 221 stores that have won their elections so far, only three stores have had their first bargaining sessions with the company, the union says.

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