In the latest battle between Starbucks and its growing 216-store union, the Seattle-based coffee chain is accusing the National Labor Relations Board of unfairly rigging union elections in favor of the SBWorkers United union.
According to an Aug. 15 letter sent to the NLRB by Starbucks general counsel Zabrina Jenkins and Kimberly Doud, the NLRB St. Louis region has “engaged in highly improper, systemic misconduct” involving secret coordination of in-person voting at NLRB offices for a supposedly mail-in ballot election, giving union representatives confidential election real-time information, disenfranchising voters that did not cast in-person votes, and mishandling ballots. The outlined accusations specifically refer to one store’s union election process in the Kansas City area, though the letter states that “these types of misconduct have occurred in other NLRB regions and other NLRB cases.” Starbucks claims to have evidence leaked by an anonymous employee with the NLRB that the election tampering occurred.
“This documentation shows that Board personnel have secretly colluded with the Union to affect multiple stages of the mail-in ballot election process, including the providing, returning and counting of ballots,” Starbucks legal counsel said in the letter sent on Aug. 15. The purpose of this misconduct was to tip-the-scale in order to deliver the outcome sought by the union. The result of the misconduct was to ignore—and bypass—the actual sentiments that Starbucks partners may have expressed in properly conducted elections.”
According to background given by Starbucks general counsel on the case, on Feb. 24, Starbucks and SBWorkers United came to a Stipulated Election Agreement calling for a mail-ballot-only election, among other rules. In March, at the beginning of election proceedings for the Kansas City store ballot, the Union’s attorney allegedly identified multiple voters that had not received ballots and asked for duplicate ballots on the last agreed-upon day that they could do so. The union attorney then asked if these voters could place their ballots in person since this had been allowed in other Starbucks region elections.
In April, it came out that there was allegedly an invalid voter list that the NLRB had worked from to send out ballots which was corrected, and voters that did not receive ballots allegedly made appointments to place ballots in person, including a recently terminated worker who no longer works for Starbucks. Starbucks asked for the ballot process to be postponed, but the Union did not agree to this and the NLRB denied Starbucks’ request. Starbucks alleges that the company’s request was denied because the Board had “created individualized voting procedures for particular voters designated by the Union.”
The ballot count took place as planned on April 8, during which time Starbucks’ attorneys noted several irregularities, including missing postmarks from the ballots allegedly placed in person, lost ballots that were then found the morning of the election, and six missing ballots from voters that were allegedly denied the right to vote in person like several of their colleagues.
As a result of these findings, Starbucks is asking NLRB to immediately suspend all mail-ballot elections and stay upcoming election hearings until a thorough and independent investigation occurs.
The National Labor Relations Board declined to comment directly on the matter, telling Nation’s Restaurant News in a statement that: “the agency has well-established processes to raise challenges regarding the handling of both election matters and unfair labor practice cases. Those challenges should be raised in filings specific to the particular matters in question. The regional staff – and, ultimately, the Board – will carefully and objectively consider any challenges raised through these established channels, which include opportunities to seek expedited review in both representation and unfair labor practice cases.”
However, even though Starbucks finds the evidence egregious, union representatives believe the accusations are all part of an attempt further distract and undermine SBWorkers United’s successes:
“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,” SBWorkers United said in a statement sent to Nation’s Restaurant News. “Workers have spoken loud and clear by winning 82% of union elections. Ultimately, this is Starbucks' latest attempt to manipulate the legal process for their own means and prevent workers from exercising their fundamental right to organize."
If the upcoming Aug. 16 hearing for the Region 14 (Kansas City) election is not stayed, Starbucks is asking again for the General Counsel to subpoena documents in relation to the NLRB Region 14 election as admission of evidence for the case.
“We believe that failure to do so will, in effect, implicate the General Counsel’s office in the misconduct and cover-up,” Starbucks said in a statement.
This is a developing story and Nation’s Restaurant News will update it as more information about the election hearing on Tuesday is known.
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