Economy|Starbucks Violated Labor Law in Buffalo Union Drive, Judge Rules
The decision cited “egregious and widespread misconduct,” including illegal monitoring and firing of workers. Starbucks signaled that it would appeal.
In a sweeping decision, an administrative judge in New York ruled on Wednesday that Starbucks had violated federal labor law dozens of times in responding to a union campaign in the Buffalo area shortly after the campaign began roughly 18 months ago.
Michael A. Rosas, a judge for the National Labor Relations Board, concluded that Starbucks had illegally monitored, disciplined and fired employees engaged in union organizing; added workers to stores to dilute support for the union; and promised new benefits to workers in an attempt to defuse support for the union.
The ruling mandates the reinstatement of seven Buffalo-area workers who the judge concluded were unlawfully discharged from the company, and back pay and damages to more than two dozen workers who the judge concluded had suffered retaliation that affected their compensation, such as a reduction of hours.
In addition, the judge ordered the chief executive of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, to read or be present for the reading of a notice, more than 10 pages long, promising to refrain from committing a series of labor law violations in the future, and to make and distribute a video of the reading.
Because of the company’s “egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights,” Judge Rosas wrote, it was necessary to issue a broad order requiring Starbucks “to cease and desist from infringing in any other manner on rights guaranteed employees.”
Labor Organizing and Union Drives
- Mining Strike: Hundreds of coal miners in Alabama have been told by their union that they can start returning to work before a contract deal has been reached, bringing an end to one of the longest mining strikes in U.S. history.
- Starbucks: In a sweeping decision, a judge in New York ruled that the company had violated federal labor law dozens of times in responding to a union campaign in the Buffalo area.
- Gag Rules: The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that it is generally illegal for companies to offer severance agreements that require confidentiality and nondisparagement.
- Tesla: Barely 24 hours after a group of software workers at a Tesla factory in Buffalo issued a letter declaring their intention to unionize, firings began. And the organizers said it was not a coincidence.
“This is truly a historic ruling,” Gary Bonadonna Jr., the regional head of Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks, said in a statement. “We will continue to fight and hold billionaires like Howard Schultz accountable for their actions. We will not rest until every Starbucks worker wins the right to organize.”
The ruling can be appealed to the labor board in Washington, and to federal court after that, and Starbucks indicated that it might do so. “We believe the decision and the remedies ordered are inappropriate given the record in this matter and are considering all options to obtain further legal review,” the company said in a statement.
Starbucks’ response to the union campaign has gotten heightened scrutiny recently. Earlier on Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced that he planned to hold a vote next week on whether to subpoena Mr. Schultz before the Senate labor committee. Mr. Schultz had declined an earlier invitation from Mr. Sanders to testify about the company’s actions during the union campaign.
Last month, a federal judge ordered the reinstatement of a Michigan worker who was involved in union organizing when the company fired her in April.
The organizing campaign notched its first victory in Buffalo in 2021. Since then, more than 280 of the roughly 9,300 corporate-owned Starbucks locations in the United States have unionized. The ruling covers the period from August 2021 to July 2022, by which point the campaign had spread from the Buffalo area to dozens of stores nationwide.
In the early months of the campaign, Starbucks workers complained that executives and other company officials were converging on Buffalo in an attempt to undermine their unionization effort.
Judge Rosas found that Starbucks had violated labor law by “having high-ranking company officials make repeated and unprecedented visits to stores in order to more closely supervise, monitor or create the impression that employees’ union activities are under surveillance.”
He also ordered the company to bargain with the union at a Buffalo-area location where the union lost an election in December 2021, concluding that the scope of the violations at the store tainted the vote and made a rerun of the election an “insufficient” remedy.
It is rare but not unprecedented for a judge to effectively order in a union upon concluding that it had support among workers but that a fair vote is nearly impossible.