NLRB to probe Starbucks for anti-union allegations

NEW YORK The National Labor Relations Board has scheduled a hearing on allegations that Starbucks Corp. used illegal means to discourage the unionization of employees at four units in New York City, according to press reports.

Earlier stories said the NLRB's Manhattan office had accused the Seattle-based coffee chain of violating union-protection laws some 30 times. Starbucks has said the charges were "baseless," and that it will defend itself vigorously.

Among the infractions alleged by the NLRB are the discharge of two workers who were trying to organize a union chapter apparently affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, a century-old labor group known to earlier generations as the Wobblies.

Representatives of the union regulatory board were also quoted as alleging that employees at the four Starbucks stores were discouraged from discussing working conditions with one another. The accusations followed a complaint filed with the NLRB by the IWW.

Starbucks, despite its reputation as one of the more generous employers in foodservice, has had a rocky relationship with unions. Last year, a dispute with the IWW ended in a NLRB-brokered deal that prevented the coffee giant from trying to win employees' favor with free pizza, company-paid gym memberships, complimentary tickets to baseball games or the promise of promotion. The agreement also forbade Starbucks from demanding that baristas and other staffers remove pro-union pins or badges.

Worldwide, a Starbucks spokeswoman told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, only eight of the coffee chain's 7,500 company-operated units are unionized, and those are all in Canada.

The NLRB hearing on the allegations against Starbucks is scheduled for June 12.