Why This Court Case Is So Meaningful To The Starbucks Union Effort

Starbucks is facing yet another lawsuit from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In April 2022, Starbucks was sued over its treatment of pro-union workers in Phoenix, Arizona. The NLRB also filed a complaint against Starbucks in February 2022 over its treatment of several workers in Memphis, Tennessee (via HuffPost). 

On May 19, 2022, the NLRB Buffalo Regional Director issued a consolidated complaint against Starbucks, alleging more than 200 instances of unfair labor practices and anti-union activity by the coffee chain giant, including surveillance and interrogation, making threats, selective enforcement of work rules, and retaliation. The complaint was a culmination of months of investigation by the Buffalo region NLRB of allegations by Starbucks workers. Remedies sought include reinstatement of terminated employees, reimbursement for consequential harm and damages to affected employees, restoring the operations of a closed shop, and for Starbucks to bargain in good faith with the union, among others.

The first hearing on that complaint was held July 11, 2022 in front of an Administrative Law Judge. SB Workers United tweeted, "Starting today, after months of investigating, the Labor Board is prosecuting @Starbucks for over 200 violations of labor law in Western NY ALONE." Perhaps coincidentally, on the same day, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced big changes are coming to the company on the company website.

The Buffalo court case could have far reaching implications

Although it's not the first, or even only ongoing, court case between the NLRB and Starbucks, the current court case in Buffalo is especially meaningful to the Starbucks union effort — it was in Buffalo where the SB Workers United first began its union efforts in August 2021, reports The New York Times; the first Starbucks to unionize in the recent efforts was also in Buffalo, where workers at the Elmwood Avenue Starbucks voted 19-to-8 to unionize (via the Associated Press).

Beyond the symbolism of coming full circle to the city that started it all, a full win for the NLRB against Starbucks in the case could potentially have repercussions across the country — according to NPR, in that event, "Starbucks would have to immediately stop the alleged anti-union activity at all stores" and "be required to recognize and bargain with the Starbucks Workers United union."

Per Politico, the hearing alone is expected to take several weeks, after which, it could take several months for the Administrative Law Judge to render a decision. Even if Starbucks is found to have engaged in unfair labor practices and anti-union activity, the company has the right to appeal, and it could take years before consequences, if any, are seen or felt, cautions Restaurant Dive.