Federal labor officials filed another complaint against Starbucks and CEO Howard Schultz on Thursday, accusing the co-founder of the coffee chain of breaking the law through “collaboration sessions” he held with baristas.
A regional director for the Seattle-based National Labor Relations Board said in the complaint that sessions held by Schultz and other high-level Starbucks officials were intended to “solicit complaints” from workers and make promises in exchange for workers to workers will not unionize. to do it is illegal under federal labor law.
Starbucks had billed the collaboration chat as “intimate, honest, and authentic conversations between partners at all levels of the business.”
The complaint also alleges that Starbucks violated the law when it created a new three-store location.heritage district” in the company’s hometown of Seattle, requiring workers at those stores to reapply for the same positions.
The regional director said that almost half of the employees were not rehired in their previous locations, including the majority in the company. First Avenue and Pike Street store, where employees were trying to unionize. Newly hired workers received raises and new benefits, while those who transferred did not, according to the complaint.
Ronald K. Hooks, regional director of the NLRB, alleged that Starbucks undertook such changes because workers had exercised their collective bargaining rights and because the company wanted to “dissuade employees from participating” in such activities in the future.
Hooks said Starbucks should offer raises to workers who weren’t rehired at its previous stores and send them letters of apology. Notably, he also said that Starbucks should have to “dissolve” the heritage district and restore those locations to their “status quo of operations.”
Starbucks said in a statement that the complaint is “without merit” and that the proposed remedies would “undermine our ability to make legal and appropriate business decisions,” an apparent reference to Hooks’s recommendation that the heritage district be disbanded.
“Our long and rich history of collaborating with and listening to our partners is central to our culture, and we look forward to championing our partner engagement efforts and legal business decisions,” the company said.
“Mr. Schultz has made it clear that he is the driving force behind employment policy at Starbucks.”
– Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in a letter to Starbucks
In addition to the new complaint, Schultz is also dealing with a possible subpoena to appear in Congress and answer questions related to Starbucks’ efforts to stop unionizing activities. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced earlier this week that he planned to hold a vote among his colleagues next week to determine whether to issue the subpoena. .
Starbucks has said that Schultz should not appear before the committee and has offered to send other executives in his place, a proposal that did not satisfy Sanders. The senator said Thursday that he was concerned that Schultz “keep challenginga request made by legislators.
“Mr. Schultz has made it clear that he is the driving force behind employment policy at Starbucks,” Sanders said in a letter.
The new complaint is one of more than 70 board officials who have filed against Starbucks accusing the company of firing workers, closing stores and making promises, all in an effort to impede a campaign by the national organizing of Workers United. The group has successfully organized nearly 300 stores since the end of 2021.
Seattle’s new complaint is one of the few that directly implicates Schultz, the company’s co-founder and best-known face.
Labor board officials pursue such complaints against an employer when they investigate complaints from a worker or union and find merit in them. The next step would be to hold a hearing before an administrative law judge, who would issue a decision that could then be reviewed by the NLRB’s five-member board in Washington.
“Just this week, an administrative law judge ruled that Starbucks engaged in ‘egregious and pervasive misconduct.'”
If the judge and the board find that Starbucks violated the law, the company could be forced to compensate workers for lost wages and other losses. But the process often takes years to unfold, with numerous opportunities for appeal.
Starbucks has denied breaking the law and maintains that it has run a fair campaign against the union. But the numerous complaints filed against the company are finally beginning to lead to official conclusions from NLRB judges.
Just this week, an administrative law judge ruled that Starbucks committed “egregious and widespread misconduct,” including firing union supporters, at stores in western New York where the union campaign began.
Unlike complaints filed by regional managers, it is much more difficult for Starbucks to dismiss such decisions as mere “indictments”: Judges hold hearings and hear testimony from both sides to determine whether an employer violated the law.
starbucks saying it was considering “all options to obtain further legal review” of the case.
This story has been updated with comments from Starbucks.