Starbucks workers rally in favor of unionization.

Judge Says Starbucks’ Union-Busting Campaign Was ‘Egregious’ and Illegal

Do you think the bean water coffee man will listen?

This just in: multi-billion dollar corporation punishes employees attempting to unionize. What else is new?

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It’s obviously not the first time something like this has happened. Big business has been against unions since time immemorial, and modern companies are carrying on the tradition. While Amazon’s creepy union-busting tactics have been widely publicized, Starbucks is now standing in the anti-union spotlight. The company’s CEO, Howard Schultz, has appeared to CNN to whine about unions. Now, employees say that Starbucks has taken to more drastic union-busting measures. Some of these measures were so heinous, the United States court system has weighed in. To put the judge’s thoughts in Yelp review terms, he gave Starbucks 1 star out of 5.

Oh god. What is the bean water company doing to people?

Besides serving gross and overpriced coffee? Quite a bit. After a yearlong investigation into claims of labor violations, judge Michael Rosas at the National Labor Relations Board leveled a damning decision at the company. The investigation found that Starbucks has illegally monitored and punished employees fighting for a union, and they had committed a slew of violations meant to erode support for the union effort in Buffalo, NY. The company has also fired seven employees in the Buffalo area and diminished the wages of dozens of employees who spoke up against the company. Rosas said that Starbucks showed a “general disregard for employees’ fundamental rights.” The judge ordered the company reinstate the seven employees who were fired, as well as award backpay and damages to the employees whose wages were reduced in retaliation for speaking out.

The company also reportedly used its inclusive healthcare coverage as leverage against employees willing to unionize, particularly against trans employees. Oklahoma Starbucks employee Neha Cremin believes that “the company realizes that we as trans partners feel particularly vulnerable at this time,” and that Starbucks is “willing to take advantage of that” to dissuade trans employees from speaking out against the company. This is in keeping with the culture of the state of Oklahoma as a whole, which recently passed a bill to ban coverage for trans healthcare. Higher ups at Starbucks know that if a trans employee loses their job with the company, it will be almost impossible to receive healthcare coverage anywhere else in the state.

Cremin said that her manager threatened her in this manner during a one-on-one meeting, saying, “Just know that if you unionize, when you are negotiating your benefits, you could gain, you could lose, or you could stay the same.” The manager followed up with, “I know specifically, you have used the trans health-care benefits.” Cremin considered the exchange a “veiled threat.” Considering the politics of her home state, that veil is thin indeed.

Similar threats were made against an employee in Pittsburg, who said that she was brought into a room by two of her managers and asked about her upcoming gender-affirming surgery. The managers suggested that if the company were to unionize, that benefit would disappear. In Kansas, management attempted to turn a trans employee against unionizing with similar threats, telling him that his workers might not consider trans healthcare a priority in union negotiations and that he could stand to loose them if a union were to form.

270 of the 9,000 Starbucks stores in the nation have discussed unionizing, and the company keeps making threats. Employees have stated that management continues to threaten their benefits. Even the Starbucks website told workers “some things you value now might go away” with a union contract. The healthcare coverage that Starbucks offers has long been a point of pride for the company. Yet they seem all too willing to throw it away should they continued to be “assaulted” by the “threat of unionization,” as CEO Howard Schultz put it in a speech to Starbucks staff. Ironically, his speech was introduced by a trans employee who said that they sought out the company for its trans inclusive healthcare. The company seems to be happy to use “inclusivity” as a way of marketing itself, but doesn’t seem to place any value on it besides that.

What happens now?

In the end, Starbucks is using mafia protection racket tactics to scare employees into falling in line. “Nice heathcare ya got here, would be a shame if something were to happen to it… capiche?” Nevertheless, employees remain undaunted in their battle against the corporate coffee giant. Starbucks Workers United, the largest group responsible for organizing the potential union, touts the legal decision against Starbucks as a huge victory. The regional head of Starbucks Workers United, Gary Bonadonna Jr., told the New York Times that the decision was a “truly a historic ruling” and that their organization “will continue to fight and hold billionaires like Howard Schultz accountable for their actions.”

Schultz himself will be forced to deal with the matter personally—per the ruling’s stipulations, a recording of the CEO engaging with the ruling will be distributed to all Starbucks employees. The company will also be forced to post the ruling in all Starbucks locations. Booyah.

Unsurprisingly, Starbucks is contesting the ruling, calling it “inappropriate given the record in this matter.” The company intends to “obtain further legal review” and will likely try to appeal the decision to the National Labor Regulations Board in Washington, D.C. However, it’s possible that while the ruling is a victory on paper, it will not have a lasting effect on the company. The NLRB has no legal authority to issue damages for violations of the law, so companies often ignore the rulings altogether and choose not to inform their staff. According to labor law professor Catherine Fisk, it’s possible Starbucks will “spend a few million dollars litigating [the decision], but that’s less than the millions more they presumably think they’ll have to pay if they were unionized.”

To prevent this, it’s possible the Senate itself might get involved. Senator Bernie Sanders said that he intends to hold a vote to subpoena Schultz to testify before the Senate over the anti-union campaign. Senator Sanders also wants to form a committee to investigate further labor violations. “The time has come to hold Starbucks and Mr. Schultz accountable,” said Sanders. “A multibillion-dollar corporation like Starbucks cannot continue to break federal labor law with impunity.” Let’s hope that he’s right.

(Featured image: Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)

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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.