Starbucks Sued by Labor Board Over Employees Dismissed During Ongoing Unionization Efforts

The NLRB is seeking to have three fired Starbucks employees immediately reinstated.

Starbucks' ongoing battle with union organizers is now moving into federal court. On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced they were taking legal action against the coffee giant, claiming that Starbucks had illegally retaliated against three employees that were participating in "protected activity" as part of the unionization effort from Starbucks Workers United.

According to the NLRB, one employee was "disciplined, suspended, and discharged," another was "constructively discharged," and a third was placed "on an unpaid leave of absence after revoking recently granted accommodations." As a result, Cornele Overstreet, regional director for NLRB Region 28 in Phoenix, has petitioned the United States District Court for injunctive relief, including "asking the court to immediately reinstate these employees with their usual schedules and accommodations, expunge disciplines from their records, and post, distribute, and read the District Court's Order."

"Employees have the fundamental right to choose whether or not they want to be represented by the union without restraint or coercion by their employer. The faith of Starbucks employees nationwide in workplace democracy will not be restored unless these employees are immediately reinstated under the protection of a federal court order," Overstreet said in a statement. "Immediate injunctive relief is necessary to ensure that the Employer does not profit nationwide from its illegal conduct, to protect the employees' Section 7 rights, to preserve the Board's remedial power, and to effectuate the will of Congress."

A Starbucks storefront
Artur Widak / NurPhoto via Getty Images

For their part, a Starbucks spokesperson told us, "We wholly disagree with the claims by the US Labor board in this complaint. These partners were terminated because they violated our established policies. In some instances, they also violated state law. A partner's interest in union representation does not exempt them from the standards we've put in place to protect partners, customers, and the communities that we serve."

The NLRB lawsuit came just two days after Starbucks filed two complaints of its own with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Starbucks Workers Union organizers in Denver and Phoenix had used unfair labor practices in violation of federal law. That move — a first for Starbucks — could be viewed as a representation escalating of tension between the chain and the union.

Twenty-eight Starbucks locations have now voted to unionize, with only three voting against unionization, according to NPR, citing numbers provided by Workers United. Over 200 Starbucks locations in more than 30 states have now filed for union votes.

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