Starbucks ’caffeinated efforts against unions could leave a bitter aftertaste. But are they legal? | Opinion

The good news greeted Starbucks employees on May 3, 2022 in the form of a promise of a new pay raise. But there was a snag: employees of unionized stores – or those planning to unite – don’t expect to see a penny of this campaign.

As for efforts to dissuade workers from supporting union rallies, Starbucks ’move looks pretty outrageous. And it happens like a coffee shop chain sees a a massive surge in trade union activity.

Since her first win at two stores in Buffalo in December 2021, Starbucks Workers United has applied for union election in more than 250 stores – with more than 6,600 employees – in more than 30 states, according to the National Labor Council. What’s more, the union has won 54 of the 64 elections held to date, many with an overwhelming advantage.

How scientist of organized work, I believe that the growth of the trade union movement in Starbucks is remarkable. But it also sparked what I would describe as an extremely aggressive stance against unions among coffee shop managers. It seems that the leadership of Starbucks intends to stop the movement of unions among employees – even if it means the risk of sanctions by federal supervision. Indeed, May 6 is the regional director of the NLRB filed a complaint against the coffee shop over previous cases of anti-union tactics that the official considered to have gone abroad legitimate.

Anti-union or behind Starbucks?

Announcing the promised pay rise to non-union workers, Howard Schultz, who returned to Starbucks as interim CEO in March 2022, suggested that federal law prohibits Starbucks from “promising new wages and benefits to unionized stores. organizations ”. Representatives of the unions argue that nothing in the law prevents Starbucks from offering such benefits to workers in union-linked stores.

Moreover, they say that the threat of delayed salary increases is 1 illegal attempt to coerce workers and there is filed a formal complaint with NLRB.

It’s not the first time Schultz has said he doesn’t. “anti-union, ”but for Starbucks“, Started a fight with workers who want to unite in a union. In April, he told public forum workers that if they were unhappy with work at Starbucks, then they should look for work elsewhere and argued that American corporations across the country were “being attacked” by unions.

The CEO also accused the organization of Starbucks stores on “the so-called “workers” and “external forces”- comments that contradict the reality of what is happening in his stores. The oddity of the recent wave of union efforts at Starbucks is that it is so managed by a workerbecause it is young employees who lead this drive and disseminate information to other stores.

Such a grassroots approach nullifies many traditional anti-union tactics. This not only contradicts the assertion that unions are imposed on workers by outsiders who may not have their best interests in mind, but also makes the message against unions more difficult. For example, group captive audience meetings – in which employees are instructed to attend sessions urging them not to join a union – have proved less effective in part because union workers have secured the presence of at least one activist to counter what is being said. And I was told by the organizers that in several Starbucks stores workers did a collective decision not to participate such meetings.

Reputational risk

Amid declining returns from traditional efforts to persuade workers against unions, Starbucks seems to be increasing intensity. But going to war with union workers poses a significant reputational risk to Starbucks – something the company itself seems to have acknowledged. In a recent statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission the company warned investors“Our responses to any effort to organize unions could negatively affect the way our brand is perceived and have a negative impact on our business, including our financial results.”

Starbucks is already facing awkward headlines because of its anti-union practices and the increasing number of complaints they have caused.

Since the start of the union campaign in August 2021, Starbucks Workers United has filed 112 individual allegations of misconduct against the company, resulting in former NLRB chairman William Gould to note“I can’t think of anything that has spawned so many cases.”

Then on May 6, 2022, the director of the Buffalo Region NLRB issued extensive complaint to Starbucks. It covered more than 200 cases of illegal actions against trade unions. These included allegations of dismissal, disciplinary action and supervision of trade union workers; closing union shops for a few months and promising increased benefits to employees who refuse unions.

Such NLRB complaints follow an investigation into allegations of malpractice and indicate that the board found the complaints well-founded.

To help, c the complaint requires Starbucks enact a list of remedies, including the recovery of fired workers, training Starbucks managers on workers ’rights, and giving unions equal time to appeal to employees.

He also urges Schultz or Starbucks executive vice president Rosan Williams, who last year campaigned against the unions in Buffalo, to record how they read a notice explaining to employees that they have the right to form a union, and for that record to be distributed to each store in the US

Starbucks has indicated it will challenge the NLRB’s regional complaint. In a statement – stated in the company“We believe that the allegations contained in the complaint are false and we look forward to presenting our evidence.”

NLRB with more bites?

Regardless of what is said in the NLRB complaint, or what the board directs regarding the waiver of the promised wage increase, Starbucks ’apparent efforts to slow the union movement may have some success.

The Starbucks union recently suffered unexpected losses in Hawaii and Florida.

Part of the problem facing the organizing workers is that it may take time to accuse them of unfair anti-union practices.

The NLRB has been holding back delays in its trials for decades. It may take months to make a decision, and if the company appeals the council’s decision in federal court, it could take years – still the damage to the union campaign may have already been done.

Work organizers will hope that the recent complaint to Starbucks will portend a determination and desire to move faster in the NLRB under the Biden administration.

President Joe Biden likes to advertise his union credentials. Indeed, he recently welcomed Fr. Starbucks union worker to the White House, which prompted the campaign demand that he receive a similar invitation.

But in Biden powers as self-proclaimed “The most pro-union president in American history” may depend on how his administration through the NLRB is able to deal with anti-practices when they cross the border.

John Logan is Professor and Director of Labor and Employment Studies at the University of San Francisco. He wrote this work for Conversationwhere he first appeared.

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