Federal regulators want to force Starbucks to reopen 23 stores – The New York Times

Federal labor regulators on Wednesday accused Starbucks of illegally closing 23 stores to stifle organizing activity and trying to force the company to reopen.

A complaint filed by a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board argued that Starbucks closed stores because its employees were engaging in union activities or to discourage employees from doing so. At least seven of the 23 stores identified had unionized.

The agency’s move is the latest in a series of allegations by federal officials that Starbucks violated the law during a two-year labor campaign.

The case is scheduled to go before an administrative law judge next summer unless Starbucks settles the case sooner. In addition to asking the judge to order the businesses to reopen, the lawsuit also calls for workers to be compensated for loss of earnings or benefits and other costs they incurred as a result of the closures.

“This complaint is the latest confirmation of Starbucks’ determination to unlawfully resist workers’ union organizing,” said Mari Cosgrove, a Starbucks employee, in a statement issued by a union spokesperson, Workers United.

A Starbucks spokesman said: “As part of our business, we evaluate the store portfolio each year” and typically open, close or modify stores. The company said it opened hundreds of new stores and closed more than 100 last year, about three percent of which were unionized.

The unionization campaign began in 2021 in the Buffalo, NY area, where two stores unionized in December, before spreading across the country. More than 350 of the company’s approximately 9,300 locations have become unionized.

The Labor Department has filed more than 100 complaints alleging hundreds of allegations of unlawful conduct by Starbucks, including threats or retaliation against workers involved in union activities and failure to bargain in good faith. Administrative law judges have ruled against the company in more than 30 cases, although the company has appealed those decisions to the full labor commission in Washington. Judges have dismissed fewer than five of the complaints.

None of the unionized stores have negotiated an employment contract with the company, and negotiations have largely stalled. Last week, Starbucks wrote to Workers United saying it wanted to resume negotiations.

According to Wednesday’s complaint, Starbucks managers announced the closure of 16 stores in July 2022 and then announced several more closures over the next few months.

An administrative law judge previously ruled that Starbucks illegally closed a union store in Ithaca, New York, and ordered the workers reinstated with back pay, but the company has appealed that decision.

The new complaint was filed the same day that Starbucks released a non-confidential version of an external assessment of whether its practices are consistent with its stated commitment to labor rights. The company’s shareholders voted to support the assessment in a non-binding vote, the results of which were announced in March.

The report’s author, Thomas M. Mackall, a former management attorney and labor relations official at food and facilities management company Sodexo, wrote that he “found no evidence of an ‘anti-union playbook’ or instructions or training on how to do so.” violates U.S. law.”

But Mr. Mackall concluded that Starbucks officials involved in responding to the union campaign did not appear to understand how the company’s global human rights statement could limit their response. The Declaration of Rights requires Starbucks to respect employees’ freedom of association and participation in collective bargaining.

Mr. Mackall cited managers’ “allegedly unlawful promises and threats” and “allegedly discriminatory or retaliatory discipline and dismissal” as areas where Starbucks could improve.

In a letter accompanying the report’s release, the company’s chief executive and an independent director said the assessment was clear: “Starbucks had no intention of departing from the principles of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.” At the same time, it said Letter: “There are things the Company can and should do to improve its stated commitments and adherence to these important principles.”