The Legal Complaint Starbucks Just Settled With Its Union

Starbucks operates 15,640 locations in the United States as of September 26, 2022, as per ScrapeHero. Since 2021, when the Starbucks union movement savored its first victory in the form of an affirmative union vote to unionize at a location in Buffalo, New York, at least 300 stores have gone on to hold official union votes and an estimated 245 have returned an affirmative decision to unionize, according to NPR. The union maintains that organizing workers will put individual workers on more equal footing with the Seattle-based coffee behemoth when it comes to the terms of their employment, per SB Workers United. 

Starbucks wholeheartedly disagrees with this pro-union sentiment, informing its workers via its website, that "without a union, you can speak for yourself, directly to your leaders and support partners. If the union were voted in, [it] would become your only voice." In addition to this sort of messaging, Starbucks has taken other actions toward pushing back against unionization efforts, per Vox. Such actions have allegedly included threatening to exclude unionized workers from pay raises and certain benefits, according to Axios. That issue will be addressed in an October 25 hearing with the National Labor Relations Board.

Other court cases have been brought against Starbucks in connection with the company's alleged union-busting; some have resulted in judgments against the company, also via Axios, although Starbucks has plans to appeal. Today, however, one such action between Starbucks and Workers United has been definitively settled.

Starbucks and Workers United come to an crucial agreement

On October 3, Nation's Restaurant News reported Starbucks and the union representing some of its employees, SBWorkers United, have come to a landmark settlement — the first of its kind between the two entities, which have been locked in controversy for going on two years now. This particular complaint, which was brought against Starbucks by the union in connection with a now-unionized location in New York City, alleged that Starbucks acted in a retaliatory manner against union leaders at the New York City location. Companies are prohibited by federal law from retaliating against union organizers, with or without an affirmative union vote, according to the U.S. Department of Labor

In this case, the retaliatory actions cited by the union included posting "unwarranted disciplinary actions" on the employee records of union organizers. In what appears to be a positive step for Starbucks' union relations, Starbucks has agreed to purge such records. The settlement agreement also requires that Starbucks post a notice of the settlement in the employee break room at the location, for no less than 60 days. "This sets an example," a Starbucks employee noted in a statement released by the union.

All of that said, the settlement agreement stipulates that is, in no way, to be construed as an admission of "wrongdoing, liability, or violation of law" by Starbucks. "We're pleased," a Starbucks spokesperson noted of the agreement, per NRN. That is what some would call a win-win.