Starbucks Broke Labor Law, Must Reopen Unionized Chicago Coffee Shop Shuttered Last Year, Federal Labor Officials Say

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

The National Labor Relations Board is asking a judge to order Starbucks to reopen 23 shuttered locations around the U.S. – including at Bryn Mawr and Winthrop avenues in Edgewater – claiming the company closed the coffee shops as retaliation for employees unionizing or to hinder their organizing efforts.

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The complaint, filed by the NLRB’s regional director in Seattle on Wednesday, says Starbucks failed to bargain over the effects of shutting down the Edgewater cafe and others in violation of federal labor law. The NLRB also accuses the coffee giant of interfering with employees’ rights and illegally trying to discourage them from joining a union.

“This complaint is the latest confirmation of Starbucks’ determination to illegally oppose workers’ organizing,” Seattle-based employee and union member Mari Cosgrove said in a statement. “If Starbucks is sincere in its overtures in recent days to forge a different relationship with its partners, this is exactly the kind of illegal behavior it needs to stop.”

The Edgewater location – which has since been replaced by the Chicago-based coffee chain Sip & Savor – voted to unionize in May of last year. At the end of October, the company shut it down. At the time, Starbucks said it was due to ongoing safety issues the company could not solve.

Former employee and union supporter Carlos Toral told WTTW News that while the store did have problems with safety, “the timing of it all is also pretty sketch and quite on the nose … that is 110% union-busting.”

“We firmly believe that the allegations lack merit, and the Company plans to defend our lawful business decisions at an eventual (administrative law judge) hearing on the matter,” Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull told WTTW News in a statement. “Store closures included in the Consolidated Complaint were outcomes of regular business reviews, which assess the health and overall footprint of our store portfolio. The difficult decision to close any store follows an extensive review process intended to advance the Starbucks experience we deliver for our partners and customers — and is done without regard to union status.”

Also Wednesday, Starbucks publicly released a “non-privileged and non-confidential” version of a third-party report prepared at the request of its shareholders analyzing whether the company has lived up to its “abiding commitment to the principles of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.”

“There is no evidence Starbucks has, or has used, an ‘anti-union playbook,’ and the Company has provided consistent reassurances to partners that Starbucks respects their right to collectively organize through fairly conducted elections,” Starbucks board chair Mellody Hobson and member Jørgen Vig Knudstorp wrote in a letter to shareholders.

As of last week, NLRB regional offices had issued 120 complaints against the company that include 393 separate unfair labor practice charges. The full national board, administrative law judges and federal judges have found the company violated labor law in dozens of cases, including that Starbucks failed to bargain with the union, surveilled and threatened employees and illegally fired workers.

Hobson and Knudstorp added in their letter that “while Starbucks has had no intention to deviate from the principles of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, there are things the Company can, and should, do to improve its stated commitments and its adherence to these important principles.”

Those steps include better communications and training for management; improving the relationship with Workers United, the union representing organized Starbucks employees; and improving disciplinary standards, the letter says.

“We are committed to engaging in good faith collective bargaining for each store where a union has been appropriately certified—and have shared our aim to reach ratified contracts for union-represented stores in 2024,” Trull told WTTW News.

The complaint calling on Starbucks to reopen the 23 shuttered locations also asks a judge to order that the company must bargain with the union as required, rehire any employees who had been working at the closed stores, compensate workers forced to leave, and make employees nationwide aware of their rights under labor law, among other penalties.

Starbucks is required to reply by Dec. 27. The complaint is scheduled for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge on Aug. 20, 2024.

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

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