THE AMERICAN National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) ruled on Friday that the Starbucks coffee chain had unlawfully threatened to withhold benefits if employees in Wisconsin voted to join a union.
The judgement comes after the NLRB found at the beginning of October that Starbucks in Seattle Washington had treated union members from the Starbucks Workers United union (SWU) unfairly.
In this latest finding the NLRB administrative law judge ruled that the Seattle-based coffee chain violated federal law by:
- Telling employees at a West Allis, Wisconsin store that they would lose planned benefit increases, including an abortion travel reimbursement, if they voted to unionise;
- Threatening that unionisation could bring negative changes to the West Allis store;
- Soliciting employees’ grievances and promising to remedy them if employees refrained from union activity;
- Telling employees that they were aggressive after they challenged a supervisor’s claim about the effects of unionisation on planned benefit increases;
- Telling employees that their union activity caused a negative environment at the West Allis store.
Starbucks violations started in 2022 after managers learned that employees had initiated an organising campaign with a union called the Chicago & Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United/Service Employees International Union which is based in Illinois.
The company has now been hit with more than 100 complaints as its workers across the country have unionised and, according to the union’s website, the SWU now represents more than 360 stores.
In a separate decision on September 28th, the NLRB concluded that Starbucks also violated Federal Labour law when it increased wages last year but only offered the new benefits to non-union employees.
And on 8th August this year, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied Starbucks’ challenge to a previous lower court ruling requiring it to reinstate seven fired workers, called the Memphis Seven.
The circuit court noted the coffee retailer’s firing of the seven workers in Memphis, Tennessee was an act of retaliation for their unionising efforts.
Likewise, earlier this year, the NLRB ordered the company to reinstate seven workers at its Buffalo New York location, who were also fired for their union activity.
And in April 2022, the NLRB asked a court to compel Starbucks to reinstate three workers who had been fired for union activity in Phoenix. However, a federal judge denied the NLRB’s request.
On July 6th, the NLRB on ordered Starbucks to reopen one of the three stores it had closed in Ithaca, New York, and to reinstate the employees with back pay. It found the coffee retail chain had engaged in unfair Labour practices by closing unionised stores.
An administrative law judge found the company violated federal Labour law on numerous occasions, most of which were related to the treatment of employees at the company’s three unionised store locations in Ithaca.
Meanwhile, Starbucks and the SWU, which officially represents the coffee giant’s organised workers, have filed duelling lawsuits over a social media post about the Israel-Hamas war, according to court documents released last Saturday.
The company filed a federal lawsuit against Starbucks Workers United in Iowa last Wednesday over a pro-Palestine post shared by a union account in the early days of the Hamas-Israel war, court records show.
In their own lawsuit, filed in federal court in Pennsylvania last Wednesday, the SWU said: ‘Starbucks – long known for its rocky history with organisers – is using the incident to perpetuate an illegal anti-union campaign by falsely attacking the union’s reputation with workers and the public.’
The SWU wrote on social media: ‘Solidarity with Palestine!’
The post was deleted within about 40 minutes, but shares of the post and other posts expressing similar sentiments remained on the accounts of individual union members and local Starbucks Workers United branches.
Citing copyright infringement in its lawsuit, Starbucks wants the union to stop using ‘Starbucks’ in the union’s name and stop using a logo with a green circle resembling that of the coffee chain.
In their lawsuit, union members say that Starbucks has defamed the union and that they are seeking to keep their name and logo.
They also deny any allegations of ‘supporting terrorism, hate and violence’.
Starbucks Executive Vice President Sara Kelly claimed the post reflects the union’s ‘support for violence perpetrated by Hamas’ and that Starbucks ‘unequivocally condemns acts of terrorism, hate and violence.
‘None of these groups speak for Starbucks Coffee Company and do not represent our company’s views, positions, or beliefs. Their words and actions belong to them, and them alone,’ she said.
SWU cited similar trademark cases involving unions, including a recent legal battle involving fast food chain Medieval Times Workers United, who won a legal fight with Medieval Times over use of the company name and logo.
Starbucks has written to the union demanding they remove the company’s name and logo from union materials, but in a written reply to Starbucks attorneys, SWU President Lynne Fox pushed back at what she called the company’s ‘frivolous legal claims’.
Fox added: ‘The letter (sent by Starbucks) asserts that Starbucks Workers United has made “statements advocating for violence in the Middle East”, but does not identify any such statement.
‘Starbucks is seeking to exploit the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East to bolster the company’s anti-union campaign.
‘Your letter asserts frivolous legal claims, while falsely implying that the union supports terrorism.’
She also argued that the social media account under scrutiny is clearly a union account, saying the company has produced no evidence of public confusion about the source and that ‘no one would mistake these as statements of Starbucks Corporation.’
Meanwhile, car giant Ford told 364 employees in Michigan and Ohio not to report to work beginning yesterday (Monday) after the automaker sacked them on Friday.
These sackings include 354 employees at the Sharonville Transmission Plant in Ohio and 10 at the Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti.
Ford claims that the layoffs are a consequence of the United Auto Workers strike, because these two plants must reduce production of parts that would normally be shipped to Kentucky Truck Plant which builds the F-Series Super Duty pickup truck, the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator.
Nearly 9,000 workers at Kentucky Truck have been on strike since 11th October.
This brings the total to 660 at the Sharonville plant and 45 at the Rawsonville plant.
Ford claimed: ‘Our production system is highly interconnected, which means the UAW’s targeted strike strategy has knock-on effects for facilities that are not directly targeted for a work stoppage.
Last Friday, Ford said it had about 16,600 workers striking at three factories in Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky, plus 3,100 strike-related layoffs at ten sites in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.
The targeted strikes against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, which owns Jeep, Ram Trucks, Chrysler and Dodge, began on September 15.
UAW President Shawn Fain said on Saturday that Ford is not making any progress on talks.
On 1st October, Ford Executive Chair Bill Ford said that the UAW leadership must end the strike and accept what Ford executives claim is a ‘record UAW contract offer’.
Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford Blue until his recent promotion to chief operating officer, said October 12 that Ford had reached its ‘financial limit with contract improvement’.
And Ford CEO Jim Farley said last month that Ford’s offer to the UAW has ‘reached historic levels’ and that Ford was being held hostage by the UAW over issues related to battery plants.
However, Fain said: ‘Talks continue between the UAW and all of the so-called “Big Three” – Ford, Stellantis and General Motors.
‘Some progress is being made but it is nowhere near enough.
‘We are demanding a significant pay increase to make up for the fact that our members’ pay has not improved in the last ten years.
‘Pay has fallen well behind inflation. This is unnaceptable.
‘We are also saying to all of the Big Three that terms and conditions, like access to health insurance and a decent pension must be kept to. The contracts that have been offered are not good enough.
‘UAW members cannot keep up with inflation rises, they have families and bills to pay. They need to buy food and pay mortgages.
‘We will only put offers to our members that we think are good enough for them.’