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Starbucks Hit With Lawsuit From Labor Board Over Anti-Union Employee Guidelines

There are 19 sections of the company’s employee handbook that violate labor laws, the labor board found.

People hold signs during the "Fight Starbucks' Union Busting" rally and march in Seattle, Washington, on April 23, 2022.

In a new lawsuit against Starbucks, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is alleging that a number of the company’s employee guidelines are in violation of labor laws.

As first reported by More Perfect Union, the lawsuit, issued on Wednesday, takes issue with 19 sections of the company’s “Partner Guide,” which the NLRB argues are “overly-broad and discriminatory” against workers’ rights.

Among the guidelines in violation of national labor laws allowing employees to freely form unions is the company’s dress code, which disallows workers from wearing clothing or even pins that display union symbols, according to the labor board. The company also places several restrictions on workers’ speech in violation of the law, the NLRB says, including banning workers from recording their working conditions through photo, video or audio mediums.

The handbook’s restrictions preventing workers from participating in unsanctioned interviews or generally discussing their working conditions are also an intrusion on their labor rights, the labor board finds. Altogether, the NLRB alleges that the rules all act in the service of “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees” from exercising their right to form a union.

The agency has given Starbucks until May 18 to respond to the lawsuit before the scheduled court hearing on June 14. It is the largest legal effort so far by the NLRB to intervene in the company’s union-busting practices.

Over the past months, the NLRB has filed several charges against the company, alleging that the company has repeatedly violated labor laws in its treatment of its employees. Last month, labor board prosecutors found that the company illegally fired seven union organizers in Memphis, Tennessee; the workers made up nearly the entirety of that store’s union organizing group.

The NLRB has made similar charges over the company’s dismissal of pro-union employees in Phoenix, Arizona, and last month filed a lawsuit against the company for doing so. The agency says that the terminations of Laila Dalton, Tyler Gillette and Alyssa Sanchez amounted to illegal retaliation against the employees for unionizing.

If that injunction is successful, Starbucks will have to face legal consequences, including having to post and read aloud the court order against them in stores and reinstating the fired employees.

The company may also find itself in legal trouble for a new policy it announced earlier this week. Workers will soon see a wage raise to $15 an hour or a 3 percent increase, whichever is higher, Starbucks announced – but the higher wages won’t apply to unionized stores or stores currently in the middle of a union campaign.

Starbucks Workers United has filed charges against the move, saying that it’s clearly an attempt to discourage workers from forming unions.

“We have filed charges against Howard Schultz’s threats that union stores won’t receive these benefits. That’s not how labor law works and Starbucks knows it,” the union said. A unionized Buffalo store went on strike on Friday to protest the change.

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