NLRB Judge Rules Starbucks' Behavior Toward Unions Will Have Repercussions

Though interim Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz may refer to Starbucks employees as "partners," his position on whether those partners have the right to organize and collectively make demands of the coffee giant is clear. 

He told CNN just a few weeks ago, "I don't think a union has a place in Starbucks."

The more than 278 stores that have unionized, according to Starbucks Workers United (SWU), clearly disagree with the billionaire who's headed Starbucks on and off since 1987. Though a new CEO is on deck, Laxman Narasimhan, Schultz is not quietly ceding power to Starbucks workers. 

He says, "We as a company have a right also to say, we have a different vision that is better," according to CNN.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)has been busy with the conflict between Starbucks and workers who wish to unionize, handling what a press release from SWU says are more than 70 NLRB official complaints containing more than 1,300 violations. On March 1, 2023, an NLRB judge issued a lengthy decision, finding that Starbucks violated federal labor law with their union-busting activities and establishing significant repercussions for the coffee company.

What consequences is the NLRB imposing on Starbucks?

CNN reported that NLRB administrative law judge Michael Rosas's decision found Starbucks had engaged in "egregious and widespread misconduct" in handling unionizing efforts in Buffalo, New York, and laid out serious consequences for the company as a result. SWU's press release detailed some of the remedies Starbucks has been ordered to enact, including requiring the company to post a 13-page account of its labor violations in all U.S. Starbucks locations for the entirety of the national unionization movement. The company must also post a notice in all of its national locations stating that workers have a right to join a union and a list of actions — like surveilling workers or dissuading them from joining — that Starbucks cannot engage in, per CNN. 

CEO Howard Schultz is required by the NLRB to be physically present for a reading of the labor violations in Buffalo-area stores, and a recording of that reading will be distributed to all U.S. Starbucks employees. Additionally, Starbucks must reopen the Buffalo store it closed following attempts by employees to unionize, and the company must also reinstate workers fired for their unionizing efforts, along with supplying those workers with back pay for the illegal retaliation Starbucks engaged in.

SWU says the NLRB decision makes Starbucks "one of the worst violators of federal labor law in history." 

In response to the ruling, Starbucks issued a statement calling the decision and the ordered remedies "inappropriate." The coffee chain has until March 28 to appeal the decision.