Over the past week, tensions between Starbucks and the growing group of 150+ unionized stores continued to evolve amid news of Starbucks closing a store in Ithaca, N.Y. that voted to unionize in April, and a legal victory for the coffee parent company accused by labor groups of unfairly dismissing three employees.
Here are four of the latest labor news developments between Starbucks and its employees:
Employees protest closure of recently unionized New York Starbucks
Last week, Starbucks made the decision to permanently close a store in Ithaca, N.Y. on June 10. SBWorkers United and the store’s employees — who had recently voted to unionize less than two months ago — claim that this is a retaliation tactic. It is also the first unionized Starbucks store to be shut down by the coffee giant.
Employees at the store in question told SBWorkers United that they were told their store was shutting down about one week in advance, citing an inability to give employees “the partner experience” after employees had gone on strike over a broken grease trap.
“This is clearly retaliation for our small grasps at dignity as workers, but our strike showed them what power we have,” Benjamin South, a now-former employee at the Starbucks Ithaca location said in a statement. “Taking a corporation to task is unprecedented, but our 100+ union stores are proof positive that there is an army of partners that won’t let Starbucks bully us.”
The Starbucks union organized a protest on June 8 in response to the store closure and is filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
Starbucks told Bloomberg that the closure was due to lack of facilities, staffing and attendance issues.
"We open and close stores as a regular part of our operations," a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement. "Our local, regional, and national leaders have been working with humility, deep care, and urgency to create the kind of store environment that partners and customers expect of Starbucks."
Starbucks wins legal battle over wrongful dismissal case
Starbucks has won a crucial battle in a case against SBWorkers United and the National Labor Relations Board, which sued Starbucks in April for allegedly wrongfully firing three union organizers at a Starbucks store in Phoenix.
According to The Hill, a district judge ruled on June 9 that Starbucks does not have to reinstate or compensate two out of the three workers that claim they were unfairly dismissed earlier this year (the third worker has returned to work), stating that citing there were “inconsistencies and a lack of validity” in the National Labor Relations Board’s claims.
“For all of those reasons and in sum, there is not sufficient evidence to support the regional director’s unfair labor practice charge against Starbucks, thus the regional director, the court finds is not likely to succeed on the merits with regard to these complaints,” the U.S. district court judge said in his ruling. “The court will deny the injunctive relief requested and it will dismiss the petition.”
While the Starbucks employees claim they were unfairly dismissed, Starbucks has maintained that employees were not fired for union activities but for breaking corporate policies, like recording the conversations of store managers without their consent.
“The ruling by the judge today is further evidence that any claims of anti-union activity are categorically false,” Starbucks said in a media statement following the ruling. “We respect our partners right to organize, and at the same time we continue to support our local leaders decisions grounded in our mission and value.”
A National Labor Relations Board judge will hear the case on June 14.
“While yesterday was a setback for us, it in no way stops anything in regards to what we're doing with our union organizing,” a shift supervisor at the Phoenix store said in a statement sent to NPR.
Starbucks CEO says “unions shouldn’t lead our people”
In a public interview with The New York Times at the Times’ DealBook D.C. policy forum last week, interim CEO Howard Schultz discussed his relationship with the company’s growing union, while also clarifying that the company is rethinking some of its policies like the public bathrooms rule, which is being reconsidered due to safety concerns.
“We have to demonstrate to our people they can trust us,” Schultz said about his employees, while also clarifying that they can’t do that while also embracing a union.
“The customer experience will be significantly challenged and ‘less than’ if a third party is integrated into our business,” Schultz said in the interview, doubling down on his anti-union positioning, saying that he does not believe a union “should lead our people.”
At this time, nearly 300 Starbucks stores have filed petition to unionize, and 150+ stores have won the vote to unionize.
Workers United launches Strike and Defense fund
Workers United — the national union representing Starbucks workers — put out a statement on June 2 that the union is committing $1 million to establish a “Strike and Defense” fund for Starbucks workers, and will be used to support workers that go on strike and pay workers for lost time as they go on strike.
“A million dollar strike fund is an incredible show of support from our union,” Reed Essex, a Starbucks partner from Chicago whose store is scheduled to vote soon said in a statement. “It’s important partners remember that this is a national campaign that has the backing of a union with a significant storied history of success.”
Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi