Starbucks Closed 23 Stores to Deter Unionizing, US Agency Says

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File
Members of the Starbucks Workers Union and other labor organization picket and hold a rally outside a company owned Starbucks store, in New York City, U.S., November 16, 2023.

Dec 14 (Reuters) – A U.S. labor agency is seeking to force Starbucks Corp SBUX.O to reopen 23 stores that were allegedly shuttered last year to discourage a nationwide union campaign, the latest case to accuse the coffee chain of illegal labor tactics.

A regional director with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a complaint issued on Wednesday said that eight of the U.S. stores had already unionized when they closed.

Workers at more than 360 of Starbucks’ 9,300 U.S. stores have voted to join unions since 2021, and the company is facing more than 100 complaints at the NLRB alleging a variety of unlawful union-busting activity.

Starbucks has denied wrongdoing and said it respects workers’ rights to choose whether to unionize.

Starbucks in a statement on Thursday said it conducts annual reviews of its stores and routinely makes changes for a variety of legitimate reasons. “This includes opening new locations, identifying stores in need of investment or renovation, exploring locations where an alternative format is needed and, in some instances, re-evaluating our footprint,” the company said.

The complaint claims that Starbucks closed the 23 stores without prior notice to Workers United, the union behind the campaign, and without affording the union an opportunity to bargain about the decisions, according to NLRB spokesman Matthew Hayward.

The agency is seeking an order requiring Starbucks to immediately reopen the 23 stores and re-hire employees, bargain with unions at stores that have unionized, and provide compensation to employees who lost pay and benefits, Hayward said.

The case will be heard by an administrative judge, whose decision can be appealed to the five-member NLRB and then to a federal appeals court.

The complaint came on the same day that Starbucks released a report on its labor practices prepared by an independent consultant, which had been requested by shareholders.

The report found that while there was room for Starbucks to improve its messaging on the union campaign, the company had not adopted “an anti-union playbook” that involved violating U.S. labor laws.

An NLRB judge in July found that Starbucks had illegally shuttered a store in Ithaca, New York, months after it unionized. Starbucks is appealing that decision.