New Nationwide Order States Starbucks Can't Fire Union Activists

The ongoing battle between Starbucks and its workers seeking to unionize has taken some big turns in the past few weeks, culminating in a new nationwide order that the coffee company cannot fire union activists. The attempt to unionize the (by revenue) country's largest food and beverage chain kicked into full gear a little more than a year ago, when a location in Buffalo, New York was the first store to unionize. Since then, there have been a flurry of union victories across the nation, with more than 260 stores voting to organize in the past year. In an industry where unionizing has been historically difficult, the success of Starbucks Workers United has been unprecedented, as over 80% of stores the organization approached this year voted for unionization (via CNBC).

That success has not slowed down Starbucks' attempts to fight the union and may have even caused a doubling down of some of its most heavy-handed tactics. In the past six months, Starbucks has been found guilty of a wide range of illegal union-busting activity, including retaliating against unionizing employees in Denver, and withholding raises from union members, according to the New York Times. Just last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Starbucks illegally fired and threatened employees in Philadelphia, ordering the company to rescind bans on complaining to management and cease surveilling employees with union connections. Now a new nationwide order may be the union's biggest legal victory yet.

Federal judge hands down cease-and-desist order to Starbucks for firing union activists

The Starbucks unionization effort has scored many individual victories over the mistreatment of employees engaged in activism, but this new case has national implications. As reported by Bloomberg, a federal judge in Michigan has upheld a cease-and-desist order against Starbucks, which the NLRB requested. The order is meant to stop the company from firing employees engaging in union activity, a common form of intimidation and retaliation used by owners against union activists. The request was tied to a November filing over an activist at an Ann Arbor, Michigan location who was fired. The activist had been given her job back earlier this year after another court found in her favor, but Starbucks was attempting to fight the larger cease-and-desist tied to the case.

While this appears to be a big win for the union, firing employees and undercutting organizing has been only one of the tactics Starbucks has employed, and a vote to unionize is only part of the battle. Actual contract negotiations, which would put union protections into effect, have been drawn out over the past year, with Starbucks frequently engaging in delaying tactics. According to The Seattle Times, in just one instance in December, the NLRB found that Starbucks broke the law by refusing negotiations with 21 unionized stores. So while union supporters can take a well-earned sigh of relief with this order, it's only part of the ongoing struggle.