Starbucks on Aug. 15, accused National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officials of allegedly engaging in misconduct during a unionization vote at a location in the Kansas City area and has asked the labor board to suspend all mail-in ballot union elections nationwide.
The Seattle coffee chain sent a letter to the chairman and general counsel of the NLRB saying that the board’s officials not only acted inappropriately at the Kansas City location, but in other regional union elections as well, after an NLRB employee approached the company as a whistleblower.
The NLRB officials in question had “engaged in highly improper, systemic misconduct involving Starbucks and Workers United,” wrote Starbucks’ general counsel in a letter to the NLRB.
Starbucks has said that NLRB officials had allegedly coordinated with union officials to set up in-person voting at the labor board’s offices for mail-in ballot elections.
NLRB personnel are supposed to fairly arbitrate between the unions organizing the baristas and Starbucks management.
Starbucks said it was disappointed and concerned that the Biden administration excluded it from a White House meeting in May, which included union representatives.
The company is now demanding that all future elections be held in person while the allegations are investigated and a pause is put on all scheduled mail-in elections at its U.S. locations.
The labor board has a well-established process for raising challenges toward the handling of union elections and unfair labor practice cases, NLRB Press Secretary Kayla Blado told CNBC.
“Those challenges should be raised in filings specific to the particular matters in question,” she said, but added that the board does not comment on open cases.
The coffee chain also alleges that agents of Workers United, the union representing the baristas, were given confidential, real-time information about specific vote counts by NLRB officials, so that the union could target employees who had yet to vote.
The whistleblower told Starbucks that NLRB officials and Workers United allegedly even coordinated a coverup to hide their collusion.
Starbucks’ complaint contains email correspondence provided by the NLRB whistleblower that allegedly showed collusion between officials of the union and the labor board.
The company furthermore, claimed that similar tactics were being used in elections in Seattle, Washington, and Buffalo, New York.
“Until a thorough investigation is conducted, it’s anyone’s guess how many elections in how many other regions have been similarly infected,” said Starbucks in its letter.
“This is Starbucks yet again attempting to distract attention away from their unprecedented anti-union campaign,” Workers United said in a statement.
“Ultimately, this is Starbucks’ latest attempt to manipulate the legal process for their own means and prevent workers from exercising their fundamental right to organize.”
Workers United has filed 284 charges with the NLRB, accusing Starbucks of unfair labor practices.
The union has accused the coffee chain of illegally firing organizers, closing unionized stores, and of harassing pro-union employees to keep them from unionizing. The company has denied all of the charges.
According to CNBC, Starbucks, in response, has filed two complaints against union organizers in Phoenix and Denver, accusing pro-union staff of intimidating fellow employees and customers at a rally.
The NLRB dismissed the company’s accusations, saying there was not enough proof of harassment.
In March 2022, Starbucks brought back its founder, Howard Schultz, as its interim CEO in an effort to improve the situation for the coffee chain.
Schultz has employed the carrot-and-stick technique to satisfy the company’s employees, while going for a more aggressive approach to counter unionization efforts.
He pushed for a new round of pay hikes in May for tenured workers, while not applying them to unionized locations, telling them to go through the typical bargaining process.
The union sent a formal request to Starbucks in early August, demanding that it extend the pay hikes to unionized locations, which Starbucks immediately refused.
Starbucks has been attempting to fend off a nationwide unionization campaign over the past year.
The number of unionized Starbucks stores is still only a small portion of its nearly 9,000 locations, but the coffee chain has been trying hard to curb any further unionization.
Another 34 union elections have been planned, or are currently in progress, while seven other stores are waiting to schedule voting.
As of Aug. 12, over 220 U.S.-based Starbucks stores have voted to unionize, while at least 314 election petitions have been filed overall, according to the NLRB.
The NLRB has so far certified 199 votes for unionization, with 36 stores voting against.