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Regulators want Starbucks to address its handling of union advocates

The coffee giant was given a deadline of March 29 to defend its actions against Arizona employees.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Federal regulators have directed Starbucks to address allegations that management mistreated employees of a store in Mesa, Ariz., because of their support for unionizing.

The directive was part of a formal complaint issued Monday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that monitors unionization. The complaint included a lengthy list of instances where pro-union team members were allegedly slighted or punished by store managers. Those assertions were drawn from filings by the union that was looking to organize the store.

"Claims of anti-union activity are categorically false,"  a Starbucks spokesperson said in response to a request for comment on the NLRB's action. 

The NLRB states in the formal complaint that Starbucks has until March 29 to formally respond to the allegations. If the agency is not convinced the union allegations are untrue, the coffee giant will be obliged to take such steps as notifying all employees of the complaint and informing them of their union rights.

It would also be required to “make whole” an employee who was fired and allegedly denied as many hours as she normally worked.

The finding marks another setback for the coffee giant in its efforts to contain a union drive that has spread to about 145 units. Six of the stores, including the Mesa café, have voted to unionize.

Workers United, the union affiliated with the six stores, started filing allegations against the store’s management in January. Those complaints allege the managers sought retribution against pro-union workers in a slew of ways, from faulting them anew for excused past attendance infractions, to denying union sympathizers the hours they requested; suspending at least one; and firing another.

The complaint was issued by the NLRB on the day before Starbucks’ annual shareholder meeting. More than 70 shareholders signed a letter demanding that Starbucks change the way it handles the union drive.

“We believe the way Starbucks has responded to union organizing activities suggests a departure from international norms and standards as well as from its commitments to them,” the letter reads.

Since employees of a Starbucks in Buffalo, N.Y. announced their plan last summer to unionize, Workers United has been accusing Starbucks of trying to bust the union

At the annual meeting Wednesday, Starbucks announced that CEO Kevin Johnson will be stepping down. It was not clear if his handling of the union push figured into the move.

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