NLRB and Union Keep Whipping Up on Starbucks

NLRB Organizing Starbucks Workers

            Marble Falls   Hardly nine months ago, workers in a Buffalo Starbucks won the first US-election in the company.  In the first eight months since that initial victory, Workers United / SEIU has won 200 elections, 52 of them unanimously, for a win rate of around 85% of all elections filed.  According to the NLRB, 314 certification petitions have been filed to date, so there are a lot more victories still in the pipeline.

Despite spending millions with some of the most notorious management-side, union-avoidance law firms, Starbucks is almost losing worse before the “new” National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  A 10j injunction filed over the company’s firings of seven workers in Memphis that the NLRB filed demanding immediate reinstatement ended in the judge affirming their decision and ordering the notice posted, though the company is appealing.

More significant for the company and its lawyers is a new NLRB complaint ordering the company to pay back wages to all workers at union-stores who were excluded from a company-wide increase to $15 per hour or 3% whichever was higher.  More embarrassing for the company and its teams is the fact that the NLRB has cited CEO and billionaire Howard Schultz for committing unfair labor practices by claiming the company could not give raises to union-certified stores, although the Mary Kay Henry, the president of SEIU, had sent him a letter waiving bargaining rights over the increase.  The NLRB alleged that Schultz was also making implied promises to non-union workers, if they remained nonunion and didn’t organize or vote for the union.

Starbucks and its team don’t like the fact that the NLRB is actually living up to the spirit of the law and its letter, by making sure that workers have protection for concerted activity and the right to organize a union.  In a desperate maneuver the company sent a letter to the NLRB’s inspector general asking for an investigation over whether or not there was collusion between the union and the NLRB in the elections.  Ridiculously, Starbucks asked that all pending elections be suspended.  Talk about a moon shot, which the NLRB only answered by saying pretty much, “You think you have something big guy, then file a charge.”  Companies of course have equal access to filing charges under the NLRB rules, so the fact that they haven’t indicates that this was more a publicity move, than a something that where the company could maintain the burden of proof required by a charge.

The Starbucks and union fight is a long way from over, and clearly the company and its lawyers have not figured out a way to stop the union, especially now that the NLRB is not a company lapdog, as it has seemed under some administrations.  Will this be enough?  Can the union keep up the momentum, now that it is doing selected strikes in some stores?  It’s still too early to call a winner, but the union toehold in the company is increasing, and it seems clear the union will be able to hold the stores its won against the company’s assault, and that’s huge.