Facing a nationwide unionization drive, Starbucks accused National Labor Relations Board officials of “tipping the scales” in favor of the union and requested that all mail-in elections for its stores be suspended for investigation.
in a letter to the labor board president and general counsel on Monday, the Seattle-based coffee chain claimed that board officials unfairly influenced the outcome of a union election in Overland Park, Kansas, earlier this year. Starbucks says officials helped workers cast their ballots in person at a board office even though the election was to be held exclusively by mail.
Starbucks also accused board officials of a “lack of neutrality” in bringing unfair labor practice charges against the company. Regional labor board offices have issued 19 complaints against Starbucks involving dozens of cases in which union supporters say the company targeted or retaliated against them for trying to organize, including in Overland Park.
the NLRB is an independent federal agency that oversees most private sector union elections and arbitrates disputes between employers, unions, and workers.
“Starbucks Board Officials Accused of ‘Failure of Neutrality’ While Filing Unfair Labor Practices Charges Against Company”.
Kayla Blado, a spokeswoman for the board, said in an email Monday that the agency has “well-established processes” for parties to challenge how elections are run. The letter that Starbucks sent on Monday was not part of that formal process, as it was not a file attached to a specific case.
“Regional staff, and ultimately the Board, will carefully and objectively consider any challenges that arise through these established channels, including opportunities to seek expedited review,” Blado said.
A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday for board officials to hear Starbucks’ objections to the Overland Park choice. However, Starbucks asked that the hearing be suspended “until there is a thorough investigation” and the results are made public.
Starbucks Workers UnitedThe campaign, which has unionized more than 200 stores since December, called the company’s complaints and lawsuits “absurd” and said it is now “in vogue for the losers of some elections across the country to try to reverse the elections by whatever means they deem necessary.”
“Starbucks is simultaneously claiming to stand for voter protection and then calling for all elections across the country to be suspended,” said Michelle Eisen, a union leader and barista in Buffalo, New York. “This is hypocrisy at its finest.”
The results of the April election in Overland Park are not yet final. An initial count showed workers voted 6-1 to unionize, but there were seven balls challenged that could change the result. The board reserves unopened contested ballots and must then determine the eligibility of the workers who cast them (for example, managers cannot vote in union elections).
In the version of events set forth in the Starbucks letter, several Overland Park workers apparently did not receive their ballots in the mail due to a mix-up by board officials. The company says the union’s attorney pointed out the missing ballots to a board official, who then arranged for the workers to vote in person at a board office.
The company said it was not aware of these accommodations and accused the board of “collaborating” with the union to “increase the number of votes in favor of the union.”
“Starbucks simultaneously claims that it stands for voter protection and then calls for all elections across the country to be suspended. This is hypocrisy at its finest.”
– Michelle Eisen, Starbucks barista and union leader
A Starbucks store in Buffalo was the first to unionize late last year. In a matter of months, the Workers United union has managed to win 221 store elections, of which all but 11 have been certified as official by the labor board, according to data provided Friday by the NLRB. Forty-six stores voted against unionization, giving the union a victory rate of 81%. The union says election data shows “workers have spoken loud and clear.”
The union accused Starbucks of breaking the law throughout the campaign by closing stores, firing unionized workers and promising benefits to workers who choose not to unionize. Starbucks claims that none of these moves were retaliatory, but the labor board’s general counsel has found merit in many of the union’s accusations and has filed complaints based on them. The charges are still being litigated.
In its letter to the board on Monday, Starbucks asked that officials clarify to the public that there have yet to be any official findings of violation of the law.
“All existing unfair labor practice cases only involve accusations”, the company wrote.