Surveillance, Threats and Retaliation: Local Starbucks Workers Charge Company With Slew of Labor Law Violations

Amid a contentious and rapidly spreading effort to organize Starbucks coffee shops around the country, workers at locations in the Chicago area and Peoria say the company has violated federal labor law and targeted pro-union employees.

The allegations come in eight unfair labor practice cases pending before the National Labor Relations Board and filed between March and July of this year.

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Claims include unfairly disciplining employees who backed organizing efforts, threatening retaliation against pro-union workers and forbidding staffers from discussing terms and conditions of their employment.

The charges also say a company leader promised benefits to an employee if they didn’t support a union, improperly interrogated employees and suggested that a pro-union worker should simply quit if they “hate” Starbucks.

One of the claims about company conduct at a Logan Square Starbucks where a union vote eventually failed says the company “(engaged) in surveillance of known union supporters.”

The allegations filed with the NLRB come from stores in Peoria, Wilmette, and Chicago coffee shops located in Edgewater, Logan Square, the Loop and Hyde Park.

“Not just here in Chicago but in other cities – in Seattle, in Denver, in some places in California – we’re seeing the pattern that Starbucks is not afraid of whatever repercussions the National Labor Relations Board may have for firing union supporters,” said Carlos Ginard of the Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United, the SEIU affiliate representing Starbucks employees. “All we want is to sit down at the table with Starbucks and start negotiating the contract in some of these shops that have already won their union vote, but we’re seeing a very brutal reaction by Starbucks where it doesn’t seem that they're afraid of labor law in America.”

“As we have said previously, we believe these claims are false and will be prepared to defend our case,” a Starbucks spokesperson told WTTW News.

So far, employees at two Starbucks locations in Edgewater and one each in Bucktown, Hyde Park, and northwest suburban Cary have voted in favor of union representation. Workers at another Edgewater Starbucks and a North Park coffee shop expect results from their union elections next month. Votes to unionize have failed at coffee shops in Logan Square, La Grange and downtown.

Outside of the Chicago area, workers at one Peoria Starbucks voted in favor of unionization in April. Another Peoria Starbucks and coffee shops in Carbondale and Rockford are also trying to organize.

Nationwide, nearly 200 locations have voted to unionize since last fall, and have faced significant anti-organizing efforts from Starbucks management.

The company has faced hundreds of charges filed with the NLRB alleging violations of labor law including firing union organizers, closing unionized stores and threatening to take away gender-affirming health care for trans workers.

Starbucks employees in multiple cities have also gone on strike to protest working conditions. Baristas at the Clark and Ridge location in Edgewater earlier this month walked off the job, saying their coffee shop has faced chronic problems with understaffing.

Workers United’s Ginard says it’s unclear how long the investigations into the unfair labor practice charges will take. He says the goal is both for employees to be made whole, and to call attention to the need for increased resources at the NLRB and legislative efforts at the federal level to strengthen worker protections in labor law.

Among those proposed changes is the PRO Act, which passed the House earlier this year but is unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate.

“I think it’s time for a lot of elected officials, especially those who say they support working-class Americans, to support legislation like the PRO Act that would give the NLRB teeth to hold companies accountable,” Ginard said.

Contact Nick Blumberg: [email protected] | (773) 509-5434 | @ndblumberg

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