Chief Executive Howard Schultz and other Starbucks Corp. higher-ups reportedly ran afoul of labor law last year when they met with employees in an effort to gather information about unionization support and work-related grievances, a labor official says.
The National Labor Relations Board complaint, dated Thursday from a regional official in Seattle, is the latest in a slew of criticism this week lodged against the company, and Schultz, over Starbucks’
efforts to keep workers from unionizing. The news was reported on Friday by the Huffington Post.
The complaint, obtained by HuffPo, alleged that from April through August of last year, executives held “at least 100 in-person ‘collaboration’ or ‘co-creation’ sessions with employees around the country.” During those meetings officials at the coffee chain “promised to promptly remedy those grievances by granting employees new or improved benefits.”
For more: Starbucks workers contend company is busting unions. ‘This will be a priority for me,’ congressman says
In May last year, the complaint said, Starbucks also decided to reorganize three downtown Seattle coffee shops into a new “Heritage District,” and told employees at those stores that would need to reapply for their jobs. In June, during interviews for Heritage District positions, a district manager “interrogated its employees about their union activities and support,” the complaint said.
The chain then “failed and refused” to rehire 33 of the 73 employees who worked at those stores. It then gave raises and new benefits to 40 rehires and others hired at those stores — a move the complaint alleged was retaliation for union-related activity.
The labor board said it was seeking an order requiring that Starbucks take steps to inform employees of their rights, halt further actions to hold meetings to sniff out their grievances, and offer financial compensation to the 33 employees not rehired at those stores.
Starbucks dismissed the complaint in a statement.
“This Complaint has no merit and the remedies proposed by the General Counsel undermine our ability to make lawful and appropriate business decisions that advance the Starbucks experience for our partners and our customers,” a Starbucks spokesperson said via email.
The representative also said that the co-creation and collaboration sessions “were not designed or used to gather information about union support or discuss other protected activities.”
In-depth: Unions’ push at Amazon, Apple and Starbucks could be ‘most significant moment in the American labor movement’ in decades
Shares of Starbucks were up 1.5% on Friday.
The coffee chain, and Schultz himself, have drawn greater scrutiny this week from lawmakers and other federal officials.
In a letter dated Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions — which he chairs — would vote this Wednesday to force Schultz to testify over labor-related complaints lodged against the company. Starbucks had declined to make Schultz available, saying his pending departure as interim chief executive made him the wrong person to discuss the matter.
“We call on the members of HELP to vote to subpoena Howard and hold him accountable for the vicious anti union campaign he’s overseen for the last year,” Starbucks Workers United said on Friday.
See also: Starbucks investors push for review of how company is dealing with union activity
Earlier this week, a labor board administrative law judge found that Starbucks broke the law “hundreds of times” in its efforts to dissuade employees from unionizing. The 218-page ruling — a response to scores of union complaints in 2021 and 2022 — requires Starbucks to rehire seven fired workers and reopen closed stores in upstate New York, where the employee unionization efforts began.
The ruling also requires Starbucks to provide other compensation measures to employees targeted for unionizing, and cease other forms of intimidation or retaliation, and prohibits managers from offering better benefits to employees who stay away from organizing. The ruling also requires Schultz to read a notice explaining employees’ rights to employees at stores in Buffalo.
Also during the week, Starbucks office workers called on the company to stop what they said was retaliation against workers trying to organize, saying that the company’s antiunion tactics were driving morale lower.
Shares of Starbucks are up 14.3% over the past 12 months. For comparison, the S&P 500 index
is down 7.4% over that period.
For more: Starbucks urged to work with unions in letter from members of Congress