Starbucks Found Guilty Of Retaliation Against Unionizing Employees In Denver

It's been a busy two years for members of Starbucks' legal team, who've been charged with the responsibility of defending the Seattle-based coffee giant from the robust efforts of some of its employees to organize. Judging by the roster of union elections cases compiled by Union Election Data, there have been a total of 402 between August 30, 2021 and February 8, 2023. And that's not even counting all of the actions brought against Starbucks by both disgruntled employees and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in connection with related charges of unfair — and therefore, illegal — labor practices (per Reuters and The New York Times). Nor is the momentum showing any signs of slowing down.

In just the first week of February, alone, Starbucks has defended at least two cases alleging unfair labor practices in connection with employee efforts to organize. Moreover, both cases came out in favor of Starbucks Workers United, the union helping to facilitate employee unionization efforts. On February 1, an NLRB administrative law judge in Seattle found Starbucks accountable for violations of the National Labor Relations Act at its signature Seattle Roastery, per Bloomberg. In that case, Starbucks was found guilty of making illegal threats to workers to the effect that their efforts to unionize would result in either a reduction or an end to their employee benefits.

Several days later, Starbucks has been found guilty by another NLRB administrative judge for illegal retaliation against unionizing employees in Denver, Colorado (via SBWU Colorado).

Starbucks got served

One week after triumphing against Starbucks for its futile attempts at coercing Seattle Roastery employees into voting "no" to forming a union, Starbucks Workers United (SWU) has scored another important win in the name of strengthening the bargaining power of Starbucks "partners" (as Starbucks refers to its employees). On Feb. 6, 2023, an NLRB administrative law judge held Starbucks liable for what SWU characterizes as a "slew of unfair labor practices" at its E. Colfax Avenue location in Denver, Colorado, according to a press release sent to Tasting Table by SWU. 

Starbucks tried to thwart employees' attempts to unionize, though partners voted unanimously to organize back in May 2022, according to Administrative Law Judge Amita Baman Tracy in her published decision. Among other tactics, Starbucks held McCarthy-esque interrogations of employees to split and intimidate them into voting "no," threatened them with retaliation in various forms — including loss of benefits and opportunities for promotion if they did, in fact, vote "yes" — and even fired one worker for doing so. 

Citing a lack of credible testimony on the part of Starbucks, among other reasons, Judge Tracy ordered Starbucks to reinstate the employee, with back pay, and to expunge employment records of union-related demerits. According to SWU, with more than 1,200 violations lodged against it, Starbucks now counts among the "worst violators of federal labor law in history."