Starbucks closed 23 U.S. stores to deter unionizing, agency claims

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A U.S. labor agency is seeking to force Starbucks Corp 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 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.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

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.

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.

The new 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 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.

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