The National Labor Relations Board Just Called Out A Phoenix Starbucks

Starbucks is facing accusations of union busting tactics from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after two employees in a Phoenix, Arizona store claim they were punished for taking part in pro-union activities. According to The Washington Post, the NLRB does not issue complaints until after it has investigated accusations from employees and found them to be credible. The report stated that the NLRB "intervened" in the Phoenix case in order to prevent potentially unlawful retaliatory actions against the employees.

Bloomberg reports that one of the two employees in question says she was written up and suspended for a medical absence which had previously been accommodated by the store after her pro-union views became known, while the other was allegedly denied scheduling availability requests. Furthermore, the NLRB complaint alleges that store management threatened employees with punishment for their union-related communications calling them "inappropriate and negative." The Seattle-based coffee giant has denied the allegations.

The complaint against the Phoenix location comes on the heels of a corporate-owned Starbucks store in Mesa, Arizona voting overwhelmingly to unionize last month. Bloomberg Law reported that employees at the Mesa location voted 25 to 3 in favor of unionizing on February 25, becoming the third store to officially do so.

Moving towards unionization

Starbucks has been embroiled in unionization fights for years, even winning a court battle in 2012 restricting the number of pro-union pins employees could wear on their uniforms. However, the efforts gained new traction in 2021, when — partly inspired by working conditions during the pandemic — employees at a store in Buffalo, New York successfully held a NLRB certified election in December (via New York Times). Since then, Time reports that efforts to unionize have spread across the U.S., with at least 60 stores filing requests to hold elections.

Starbucks openly opposes the unionization efforts, claiming on an official company website dedicated to discouraging unionization efforts "[w]e do not believe unions are necessary at Starbucks because we know that the real issues are solved through our direct partnership with one another. And we believe every partner deserves to know the facts and to make their own decision."

Accusations of union-busting tactics

Aside from lobbying against unionization, Starbucks has also been accused of numerous retaliatory measures against employees who have tried to lead unionizing efforts, including accusations that several workers in a Memphis store were fired for trying to organize and that corporate sent in additional managers to intimidate employees (via Eater). Bloomberg described the latest complaint from Phoenix as "one of dozens pending" against the company nationwide as the unionization efforts continue to spread. Despite these efforts, the report noted that of the seven unionization votes held in Starbucks stores in recent months, six have succeeded.

Additionally, Starbucks was dealt a blow by the NLRB in the run-up to the Mesa vote. According to the National Law Review, the corporation had sought to force stores in the same geographic area to vote together on unionizing, not as individual units, potentially diluting the pro-union stores' votes with anti-union stores' votes. This request was struck down by the NLBR.

According to The Washington Post, if Starbucks is found to have violated workers' rights in Phoenix, but the company could be forced by the NLRB to reimburse the impacted employees for lost wages. It may also have to post signage in shops and read a statement to employees informing them of their legal rights to organize.