Nationwide Ban On Starbucks Union Worker Dismissals Is Overturned

Whichever side of the debate you fall on, Starbucks has accrued a pretty unsavory reputation this year for flagrantly disregarding labor laws. The company has a history of repeatedly threatening and firing pro-union employees, closing stores holding union elections, refusing union negotiations, withholding benefits from unionized employees, and other union-busting tactics. The company has been locked in a unionization struggle since December 2021 when a Buffalo, NY store became the first to win its union election. Since then, more than 260 Starbucks stores across the country have successfully unionized.

Interim CEO Howard Schultz's attempts to squash these grassroots efforts have captured the attention of the public eye. In November 2021, Schultz published an open letter to Starbucks employees titled, which the company refers to as "partners." "No partner has ever needed to have a representative seek to obtain things we all have as partners at Starbucks," wrote Schultz. "And I am saddened and concerned to hear anyone thinks that is needed now." Yet, as of spring 2022, Starbucks had already been sued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) more than 200 different times for anti-union activity against its "partners." Less than a full month after the letter went live, the Buffalo store unionized.

In late February 2023, in what seemed like a momentous victory for Starbucks Workers United, on February 23, 2023, a federal judge in Michigan issued a nationwide injunction stating that Starbucks could no longer fire union activists. But now, this order has already been overturned.

The tide shifts (again)

The NLRB requested a cease-and-desist order against Starbucks to stall the company's rampant termination of pro-union employees, which U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith upheld. But now, Goldsmith has overturned his own ruling, citing "certain errors" in his previous decision. The judge has (seemingly inexplicably) reversed his ruling, stating that the NLRB didn't provide sufficient evidence (per Fox Business) "that Starbucks has implemented a corporate-wide anti-union policy such that a cease-and-desist order should apply to every Starbucks location in the country."

This ruling is notably in-line with Schultz's own professed opinion of the company. In an interview earlier this month, Schultz told CNN that he feels unions contradict Starbucks' "vision." He chalked his company's mass unionization effort as the byproduct of a disenfranchised young working class, a "macro issue" that has little if anything to do with Starbucks specifically. But Starbucks' employees would likely argue that the opposite is true. In late February 2023, Buffalo-based barista Michelle Eisen told The Guardian, "We're seeing the same situation over and over — workers going up against billionaires and billion-dollar companies with an endless amount of resources while our labor laws are far too weak... We're all fighting for the same thing against different companies. We're all in the same boat." Earlier this month, Senator Bernie Sanders publicly called on Schultz to testify before Congress about the company's compliance (or lack thereof) with federal labor laws, which Schultz refused. Whether incoming CEO Laxman Narasimhan will resolve (or even address) these issues remains to be seen.