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Labor board takes Starbucks to court over alleged violations

Starbucks Workers United pins sit in the Buffalo office of Starbucks Workers United Feb. 23, 2022.
Tom Dinki
/
WBFO News
Starbucks Workers United pins sit in the Buffalo office of Starbucks Workers United Feb. 23, 2022.

(AP) The National Labor Relations Board is asking a federal court to order Starbucks to stop interfering with unionization efforts at its U.S. stores.

It's the third time the board has filed a case in federal court against Starbucks since December, when a store in Buffalo, New York, became the coffee chain's first location in decades to unionize. Since then, more than 289 U.S. stores have petitioned the NLRB to hold union elections and at least 151 stores have voted to unionize.

Starbucks opposes the unionization effort, saying its stores function better when it works directly with employees.

The NLRB's regional director in Buffalo, New York, filed the petition Tuesday in U.S. District Court in western New York. It asks the court to order Starbucks to reinstate seven Buffalo employees it says were unlawfully fired for trying to form a union. It also seeks to force Starbucks to bargain with a store whose union election was allegedly tainted by Starbucks' repeated anti-union activity.

But more broadly, the petition asks the court to order Starbucks to halt a variety of activities at all of its U.S. stores, including offering benefits to non-union stores, threatening reprisals for employees who support unionization, refusing to bargain with stores that have voted to unionize and temporarily or permanently closing stores.

Earlier this month, Starbucks announced plans to permanently close a store in Ithaca, New York, that had voted to unionize. Employees at the store said the company is retaliating for their labor activism. Starbucks, which operates 9,000 U.S. stores, said it opens and closes locations regularly and based its decision on staffing and other problems at the store.

In its petition, the NLRB alleged Starbucks committed numerous violations of U.S. labor law in Buffalo, including surveilling employees about unionization plans by listening in to conversations on their headsets, promising higher pay and better benefits if they didn't unionize and interrogating them for wearing union pins.

A message seeking comment was left with Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. Tuesday.