Philly coffee shops give their union a heave-ho

Two units of Good Karma have been okayed to end thier representation by Workers United, the union behind the push to organize Starbucks.
Good Karma workers voted to oust their union. | Photo: Shutterstock

Employees of two Philadelphia coffee shops that were swept along in the drive to organize Starbucks have succeeded in giving their union the boot.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified Thursday that the staffs of the two Good Karma Cafes will no longer be represented by an affiliate of Workers United, the umbrella group for the union that has organized 356 Starbucks units to date, Starbucks Workers United.

A majority of workers from the Good Karma outlets voted Sept. 7 to oust Workers United as their representative in contract negotiations and other dealings with management.

The union did not challenge the results, prompting the NLRB to ratify the results little more than a week later—lightning speed by the regulatory agency’s standards.

The voting and ratification came as the staffs of 14 unionized Starbucks branches await a yea or nay from the NLRB on their requests to vote on keeping Starbucks Workers United as baristas’ representative. 

Three of the 14 requests for what’s called a decertification vote were initially rejected by the regulatory agency but were appealed by the petitioning staffs. Two other requests have already been dismissed, leaving 11 that are still being processed by the NLRB.

Typically the agency holds off on okaying a union-decertification vote until the labor group has been in place as the staff’s representative for a year. A number of the petitioning Starbucks stores were certified as union operations longer than 12 months ago, but the NLRB can extend that wait-and-see period beyond a year if the employer is seen as refusing to bargain with the elected union.

The NLRB said it has fielded 668 assertions that Starbucks has not bargained in good faith. In two of the cases, federal courts ordered Starbucks to rehire workers who were allegedly fired because of their active support for unionizing.

On Tuesday, an administrative law judge will begin consideration of whether Starbucks has engaged in unfair labor practices on a national basis, instead of leaving each complaint to be adjudicated separately.

Ironically, Starbucks had asked that units vote on unionization on a regional basis, arguing that employees often float from store to store. But its requests were repeatedly denied.

Now the NLRB intends to look at the employer’s behavior on a systemwide basis.

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