Starbucks committed “egregious and widespread” violations of federal law in its campaign to halt unions, a federal administrative judge ruled Wednesday, ordering the company to give back pay and damages to workers who launched national organizing efforts.
The decision from Judge Michael A. Rosas, an administrative law judge at the National Labor Relations Board, comes as the coffee giant faces growing unionization efforts at its stores nationwide. The company’s efforts to squash them has put it in the crosshairs of progressive lawmakers.
In resolving an extensive case that combined 33 unfair labor practices charges from 21 stores in the Buffalo area, Rosas held that the company retaliated against employees affiliated with Starbucks Workers United as they began a union drive in 2021.
Rosas’ 204-page decision found that Starbucks violated federal labor law hundreds of times in Buffalo, NY alone.
Since then, 268 of the roughly 9,000 company-owned U.S. stores have voted to unionize, and Starbucks’s interim chief executive Howard Schultz has drawn the ire of liberal political leaders.
The more ruling from Rosas concluded that Starbucks showed “a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights,” resolving a case that included 33 labor complaints from 21 New York Starbucks locations.
Rosas also ordered the company to post a “Notice to Employees” at all of its facilities in the U.S. notifying workers that “the National Labor Relations Board has found that we violated Federal labor law.”
Rosas further ordered that the company reopen a Buffalo, N.Y., area store and reinstate a number of workers who the board concluded were fired for their union activities.
Additionally, he ordered Starbucks to cease and desist from a number of unlawful actions, including promising employees increased benefits if they did not join a union, engaging in surveillance by photographing employees wearing union pins and prohibiting employees from talking about their wages.
“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,” a spokesperson for Starbucks said in a statement.
“To order a company to reopen stores that it’s closed should be embarrassing for Starbucks,” said Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers University, who called the consequential damages imposed for Starbucks’ retaliatory actions, “a big deal.”
Givan previously said, “The penalties for breaking the National Labor Relations Act are quite weak, and that’s a huge problem because it doesn’t really serve as a deterrent. Employers decide that it’s just worth it to break the law because the consequences are fairly mild.”
“Starbucks Workers United has taken the nation by storm, reviving our labor movement with more new unions formed in 12 months than in any of the last 20 years,” said worker advocate Lisa McCormick. “Despite Starbucks’ ruthless union-busting, firing nearly 200 labor leaders across the country and shutting worker-organized stores, Americans continue to fight and stand up for their rights against one of the worst federal labor law violators in history. Anyone who calls me ‘a perennial candidate’ should look at this and understand that persistence pays.”
“When workers launched their organizing campaign in the summer of 2021, we never could have imagined the lengths Starbucks would go to try to stop employees from exercising their legal right to organize,” said Gary Bonadonna Jr., manager of the Workers United Rochester regional joint board.
“This ruling proves what we have been saying all along — Starbucks is the poster child of union-busting in the United States. We are thrilled that the company is being held accountable for their actions and we will continue to fight until every Starbucks worker wins the right to organize,” said Bonadonna.
Starbucks, which currently has 281 unionized locations, according to Union Election Data, has been a target of progressive frustration for years.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is seeking a public showdown with the company’s CEO Howard Schultz, who declined the left-wing lawmaker’s invitation to testify in front of a Senate panel last month.
Sanders said on Wednesday that he was planning to hold a vote on his Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which he chairs, to secure a subpoena for Schultz’s testimony.