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NLRB sues Starbucks for retaliating against 3 workers involved in unionizing

A Starbucks coffee shop is seen in the background as people gather for a rally and march in Seattle on Saturday.
Jason Redmond
AFP via Getty Images
A Starbucks coffee shop is seen in the background as people gather for a rally and march in Seattle on Saturday.

The National Labor Relations Board has sued the coffee shop chain Starbucks for allegedly retaliating against three employees who were involved in organizing a union.

One worker was disciplined, suspended and discharged; another was "constructively discharged" and a third was put on unpaid leave after the company revoked "recently granted accommodations," the NLRB said in a press release.

Cornele Overstreet, director of the NLRB region based in Phoenix, asked the U.S. District Court in a filing on Friday to immediately reinstate the employees with their usual schedules and accommodations, among other requests.

"Employees have the fundamental right to choose whether or not they want to be represented by the union without restraint or coercion by their employer," Overstreet said in a statement.

"The faith of Starbucks employees nationwide in workplace democracy will not be restored unless these employees are immediately reinstated under the protection of a federal court order," he added.

In a statement to NPR, Starbucks said it "wholly disagree[s]" with the claims made by the labor board in the lawsuit.

"These partners were terminated because they violated our established policies. In some instances, they also violated state law," a Starbucks spokesperson said. "A partner's interest in union representation does not exempt them from the standards we've put in place to protect partners, customers, and the communities that we serve." Starbucks refers to its employees as "partners."

The company said it also filed two unfair labor practice charges against the union Workers United to "to protect the physical safety and emotional wellbeing" of employees and customers.

Starbucks said it also wanted "to make it clear that the intimidation, bullying and harassment we're seeing from some union organizers is not acceptable."

For its part, Workers United says it has filed 80 of its own unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks across the country. "The truth is that Starbucks is grasping at straws while they're launching an unprecedented and aggressive anti-union campaign against workers, including terminating over 19 union leaders across the country," a union spokesperson said in a statement to NPR.

Twenty-eight Starbucks stores across the country have voted to form a union out of 31 stores that voted, Workers United says. More than 220 in 31 states have sought union elections.

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