Starbucks charged with labor law violations

Starbucks has repeatedly violated labor laws in its Twin Cities stores, the National Labor Relations Board has determined. The federal agency’s Minneapolis office recently ruled that 16 charges filed by members of the Starbucks Workers Union have merit.

“We are in the process right now of attempting to negotiate a settlement with Starbucks on the allegations that we have found to be meritorious,” says Robert Chester, regional director of the NLRB’s Minneapolis office.

Among the infractions allegedly taken by the company: prohibiting employees from discussing the union within stores, threatening to call security because of union activities and prohibiting posting of pro-union materials.

The charges were filed in January by Erik Forman, a worker at the Starbucks in the Mall of America, on behalf of the Starbucks Workers Union. Forman was not surprised by the ruling.

“We’ve been bearing the brunt of their union-busting since the day we went public and before,” he says. “We know they break the law, but it’s nice that the federal government acknowledges they break the law as well.”

Similar NLRB complaints have been filed against Starbucks across the country in recent years. Last year the federal agency accused the coffee chain of firing an East Grand Rapids worker for supporting unionization efforts, as documented by the Michigan Messenger. Two years ago the NLRB’s New York office leveled 30 labor-law violations against the company.

The adverse NLRB determination comes as Starbucks rolls out a new, multi-million-dollar marketing campaign aimed at curbing inroads made by low-cost competitors such as McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Starbucks closed 600 stores last year and has plans to shutter 300 more. Its first quarter profits were off 77 percent from a year ago. The new ads tout Starbucks’ “values,” including fair-trade practices and support for environmentally sustainable farming.

Forman finds the campaign misleading. “This idea of social responsibility has been a major part of their image since the company was started,” he says. “Unfortunately we’ve found it’s more image than reality. It would be nice if they would live up to their reputation.”

Forman was fired by the coffee chain in July but was reinstated the next month with roughly $2,000 in back pay. The Starbucks Workers Union is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World.

The NLRB’s Chester expects a settlement to be reached quickly. “I would hope that we’ll know something no later than two weeks,” he says. “We may know something sooner.”


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