Judge Rules Starbucks Violated Federal Law With Unionized Store Closure

By now, you might have read about how Starbucks has been ordered to pay compensation to unionized workers after the coffee giant fired them in violation of labor law. Unfortunately, it looks like the company's legal woes are not over, as a new ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has determined that Starbucks has illegally punished striking workers by abruptly closing a profitable store (per a press release shared with Food Republic). Judge Arthur J. Amchan of the NLRB has ordered the company to immediately reopen the store.

Unionized workers at a Starbucks store on College Avenue in Ithaca, New York, went on strike to protest unsafe working conditions in April 2022. Instead of addressing their concerns, the company closed the location permanently in June, effectively firing all workers. A Starbucks spokesperson denied closing the store in retaliation for its workers joining a union in the following statement to Food Republic: "We strongly disagree with the recommendations issued by the administrative law judge as the findings are not supported by the facts presented during the proceeding. We intend to file exceptions contesting the findings and recommendations made."

However, according to the emails obtained by the NLRB, the company was not clear with its workers as to why the location was closing down. The company originally considered renovating the store to remedy the unsafe conditions, but instead of communicating that to the workers, the company simply closed the store permanently.

Allegations of union-busting activities

In addition to ruling that the store closure is illegal, Judge Amchan has also determined that Starbucks has illegally terminated six workers, and ordered the company to rehire them with full back pay. Starbucks Workers United, the union representing these workers, expects to receive similar rulings against Starbucks for closing two other unionized stores in Ithaca. As a result of the closures, in May 2023, students from nearby Cornell University launched a campaign to remove the company's presence from their campus.

This is not the first time that Starbucks has been accused of union-busting since workers started unionizing in 2021. Among the numerous accusations, the coffee retailer allegedly forced workers to attend meetings where they are presented with anti-union talking points, closed stores where workers were attempting to unionize, sent executives to unionizing stores to intimidate employees, and threatened to freeze pay and benefits if workers attempt to unionize. However, despite these efforts to deter unionization, the movement grew quickly, and there are now more than 300 unionized Starbucks locations in the United States.