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INVESTIGATION: Starbucks Engaged In Unprecedented Illegal Anti-Union Campaign

Very few of Starbuck's strategies have stopped the union movement so far, so Starbucks has moved to the phase of straight up illegality. Here’s the proof.

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The biggest labor story in America right now isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

Starbucks, America’s biggest coffee chain, is engaged in illegal activities on a scale that has never been witnessed in recent history.

We’ve searched through previously unreported documents, uncovered new evidence, and found information that should establish the basis for a new major lawsuit against Starbucks by the Biden administration.

In the last few months, there have been at least 63 different allegations made by employees of Starbucks which contend the company has engaged in illegal activity against them.

These unfair labor practice charges, which have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, span across the entire country – from Buffalo to Seattle and everywhere in between: Phoenix, Memphis, Austin, Denver, Peoria, Knoxville, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Santa Cruz, and many more.

The pace and velocity of these charges against Starbucks is increasing. More than half of the total NLRB filings on Starbucks’ illegal activities have come in the last month alone.

We combed through these documents. Again and again, the charges made by Starbucks employees are the same — violations alleged of Section 8 of the National Labor Relations Act, which asserts that an employer may not “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees”.

For months, More Perfect Union has revealed stories of Starbucks executives pummeling their workers with baseless fears and propaganda to smear unions, what Starbucks Workers United called a blatant “shock and awe” campaign intended to psychologically punish prospective pro-union workers. Starbucks subjected workers to captive audience meetings and threatened to close stores, and the company even fired a popular manager because she questioned the company’s tactics.

Starbucks workers say the company is intentionally spying on their union gatherings; questioning employees about union activities. Workers are being threatened with job loss; warned that they’ll be discharged or retaliated against if they side with the union. And recently, more and more organizing employees are stating that they have in fact been outright fired as a result of their pro-union activities.

These brave Starbucks workers have not broken laws or tried to maliciously damage the company.

No, their crime – in the company’s eyes – is engaging in their Constitutional right to organize.

And they are organizing because they believe Starbucks can have a stronger business – one that retains its workers with good pay and benefits, offers opportunities for professional growth, all while maintaining a better and safer workplace.

But Starbucks doesn’t want to cede any power to workers. So it is increasingly retaliating in ways that they are trying to hide from the public eye.

Growing more desperate as the union campaign has spread to over 150 Starbucks stores across 27 states , Starbucks has pivoted its strategy in recent weeks. They’ve replaced their CEO Kevin Johnson and have brought back their former CEO Howard Schultz, who has a history of union-busting — including widely condemned comments made during a mandatory meeting with workers in Buffalo last fall.

The coffee giant is worried. Given that very few of its strategies have stopped the union movement so far, Starbucks has moved to the phase of straight up illegality.

Here’s the proof.

It began on January 25th. Two Buffalo Starbucks locations had already voted to form a union, another in Mesa Arizona was in the process, and the workers were gaining steam within the company and in the press.

On this Tues afternoon on Jan 25, a Starbucks district manager tried to intimidate 19 yr old Laila Dalton, a Phoenix employee, into quitting.

The manager said she was suspending Laila and shutting down the store for the day. Her violation? Laila had texted her direct supervisor. According to an NLRB investigation, the manager “began enforcing a previously unenforced rule prohibiting employees from communicating with supervisors by text message.” Laila had texted her boss at least 12 times before this incident, without any problems. But suddenly, she was being suspended for it. Was Laila texting something inappropriate to her boss? No, she was communicating about the levels of staffing in the store.

Just a few days before targeting Laila, Starbucks set its sights on another employee in the Phoenix store, Alyssa Sanchez. Alyssa was forced to quit because the company cut her hours. The NLRB determined this action was taken because Alyssa was supportive of the union and an ally of Laila’s.

A little over a month later, in March, More Perfect Union published Laila’s recorded footage of the conversation she had with her supervisor back in late January. We spoke with one of her coworkers, Sofia Lugo, who defended Laila’s work ethic. Lugo had her hours drastically reduced and forced to quit the store.

3 Starbucks employees. 1 store in Phoenix. All targeted by upper management for union activity.

This is part of an emerging company-wide pattern of union-busting.

A couple of weeks after Laila’s encounter with Starbucks management in Phoenix, another disturbing incident occurred.

On February 8, seven employees at a Memphis location were fired for purportedly letting unauthorized non-employees (media) in a few minutes after closing. A former Starbucks manager in that store told More Perfect Union that the reasons for the firing were specious and that “It’s definitely union busting

By mid-Feb, More Perfect Union was contacted by multiple union organizers who said they were being targeted by a new policy of reducing the work hours of union organizers. We reported that the company was trying to reduce the hours of these staffers to lay the foundation for subsequently terminating part-time employees after additional full-time hires were made.

And within days, it happened just as we predicted.

On February 20, another illegal firing occurred. This time it was in Buffalo. Cassie Fleischer, a well-respected employee who had been at the company for 5 years, was suddenly terminated when she was told by a manager that the company would no longer be flexible with her work hours. In a Facebook post, Cassie wrote, “This is not the company I signed on to” and “it just further proves we need a union in our stores”

First in Phoenix. Then in Memphis. And then Buffalo.

By late February, when a Starbucks store in Mesa voted overwhelmingly to unionize, the campaign began to gather a ton of national attention.

But less noticed and appreciated was that Starbucks corporate management was trying to systematically eliminate this perceived threat to the company.

On March 3rd, Starbucks struck again. Danny Rojas, a Buffalo employee who had been with the company for 3.5 years, was fired. Rojas had worked a night shift at Trader Joes and didn’t want to be a half hour late to work, as he had been a few days earlier. Starbucks had forced him to take the morning shift if he wanted to keep his job. So, he slept in his car just to be able to open the store at 530 am. It didn’t matter – the company fired him that day. “This wouldn’t be happening if I wasn’t part of the organizing committee” Rojas told his supervisor.

By March, Starbucks Workers United was witnessing instances all over the country that made clear what was truly going on. The company was at war with its own pro-union workforce.

On March 14, SB Workers United filed charges with the NLRB, stating: “These hours cuts are in swift response to workplace organizing campaigns at Starbucks stores around the country.” The complaint says that the reductions have happened in at least 20 states, including Maryland, Florida, New York, Ohio, Colorado, California, and Texas. “The reduction of hours has resulted in lost pay; has rendered, or will soon render, employees ineligible for benefits that have hours-worked eligibility requirements, including health care coverage and the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (tuition coverage); and has or will soon result in the constructive discharge of Starbucks employees,” the union complaint asserts. 

“In the eight years I’ve worked for Starbucks, I’ve never seen the company slash hours this severely or this widely,” Sarah Pappin, a shift supervisor in Seattle, told us. “I’ve never seen us cut hours like this in March when our business is already ramping up for the season.”

Workers know what’s going on. The only question is whether the company will get away with it.

Labor law in America is weak and has been further undermined by a persistent corporate attack over decades. But, the current NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo has vowed to use whatever authorities she has to go to bat for organizing workers.

For years, corporations like Starbucks have assumed they can get away with their union-busting conduct with a simple slap on the wrist or a minor penalty well after they engage in the illegal conduct.

Without much fanfare, Abruzzo last month issued a new initiative to change that dynamic. She vowed to take union-busting employers to court immediately.

We talked to Abruzzo and she explained her new initiative:

“For me, if employers are engaging in conduct to truly nip in the bud any organizing effort and to squelch worker voice, I feel the agency should be mandated to go to district court and to get the employer to stop doing that.”

Abruzzo laid out her fears that companies like Starbucks are banking on enforcers to be lax in challenging these illegal firings.

“If we wait until the Board decides a case, it’ll be three years from now and that’s too late. And we need the action to take place right now!”

If Abruzzo gets her way, Starbucks’ next stop might be facing off against the United States government in a federal district court.

“We would be mandated to go in and stop the employer in its tracks when it comes to interfering with employees wanting a union in their workplace.”

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