A group of United States Senators sent a letter on Oct. 4 to Starbucks leadership expressing “grave concerns” that the company is engaging in “illegal union-busting tactics.” The letter, signed by Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey, and Richard Blumenthal, specifically references first-hand accounts from employees at the Brookline Starbucks location in Massachusetts, where workers just ended a months-long strike protesting a “chaotic and hostile work environment” that has allegedly been going on since the store voted to unionize over the summer.
The letter urges Starbucks leadership to “immediately put an end to these unethical and unlawful anti-union activities and respect your employees’ right to organize,” stating that Starbucks’ response to the wave of unionization since late last year has been to “engage in a nationwide anti-union campaign” and cites a list of corporate responses to the growth of unions, including alleged illegal terminations, store closures, and intimidation tactics like executives paying surprise visits to unionizing stores.
“Starbucks has also mounted its union-busting campaign digitally, with some employees receiving repeated text messages containing anti-union language, a senior Starbucks executive sending an email to workers explicitly stating, ‘We want you to vote no,’ and a website dedicated to dissuading workers from organizing,” the letter continues.
The Senators also allege that Starbucks has engaged in illegal weaponization of new benefits and wage increases, extending them only to non-unionized workers. Starbucks has defended these actions, stating that under labor laws, they cannot offer benefits to unionized stores without a formal union contract. While the legality of this issue is open to interpretation, a labor attorney previously explained to Nation’s Restaurant News that they have to have a collective bargaining agreement before adding anything — good or bad — to employment agreements.
Critics of Starbucks’ actions — including the group of Senators that signed the letter — argue that these actions are illegal under the National Labor Relations Act, which states that “employers cannot threaten employees with loss of benefits if they support a union, promise employees benefits if they reject the union, confer new benefits during a union organizing campaign to push employees to vote against the union, or withhold changes in wages or benefits during a union organizing campaign that otherwise would have been made, without making clear that the change will occur regardless of unionization.”
The Senators cite the issues currently happening at the Brookline Starbucks location in Massachusetts, where employees have been picketing to protest the shorter scheduling hours and a new minimum availability rule that had allegedly been established without talking to the union, as one of several legal challenges to Starbucks’ anti-union campaigning, which includes 30+ National Labor Relations Board complaints that are currently being reviewed (the first of which was just settled).
The group of Senators is urging Starbucks to “immediately end these tactics” and has given the company one month to reply to questions posed by the lawmakers including:
- Asking “What guidance, written or otherwise, has Starbucks corporate given to [leadership] with respect to workers organizing or joining a union, voting in a representation election, interacting with unionized workers or union representatives, and participating in lawful, union-authorized job actions?”
- Asking Starbucks to provide a list of all instances over the past year when Starbucks introduced new benefits or altered benefits for non-unionized stores, while withholding these benefits simultaneously from unionized employees.
- Asking Starbucks to “provide a detailed report of expenditures” related to alleged union-busting tactics, including legal and consultants’ fees and production of materials for distribution (like flyers encouraging employees to vote no)
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