Starbucks illegally fired an employee at one of the coffee giant’s stores in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for engaging in union activism, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled Friday.
The decision requires Starbucks to offer reinstatement of the back-paid worker and hold a meeting with employees, management, government and union representatives to clarify workers’ rights and reaffirm the board’s finding that the company violated the law.
“I hope they learn their lesson, that firing people because they want to form a union is not going to solve their problems,” said fired employee Hannah Whitbeck. told Bloomberg in an interview. “In fact, it will only make it worse.”
The ruling comes amid a series of disputes between the coffee chain and Workers United, a labor group that organizes for unionization at Starbucks stores across the country. Starbucks has said that the company’s claims of anti-union activity are “categorically false” and has denied any wrongdoing in the Whitbeck case.
In Friday’s ruling, according to Bloomberg, the NLRB judge wrote that the board’s general counsel had shown that Starbucks “acted with animosity” when it fired the employee, who had participated in efforts to unionize the store in question. Starbucks has not indicated whether it plans to appeal.
The union that represents the employees, Starbucks Workers United, accused the company of firing more than 80 employees for their activism. The Starbucks union has racked up 220 election victories in roughly 9,000 corporate-owned US stores in the past year.
Starbucks store employees, or “partners,” who support the unionization drive have said they are underpaid, undertrained and undertreated. Those claims have been largely dismissed by the company.
“From the beginning, we have been clear in our belief that we do not want a union between us as partners, and that belief has not changed,” said Starbucks Executive Vice President Rossann Williams. he said in a statement last year. “Our hope is that union representatives also come to the table with mutual good faith, respect and positive intent.”
Separately, the NLRB said last week that requests for union representation increased 53% in fiscal year 2022 compared to 2021, the highest figure since 2016.
The board said employees are turning to established, independent unions in an effort to address a range of workplace issues, including pay, benefits and health and safety concerns from the pandemic.
“Given the increase in case intakes we are seeing in the field, we can expect even more cases to come before the board in fiscal year 2023,” NLRB President Lauren McFerran said in a statement.
The NLRB said 2,510 union petitions were filed in the fiscal year through September, up from 1,638 in the same period a year earlier. Unfair labor practice charges filed with local NLRB offices increased 19%, the agency added.
Although unionization efforts at Starbucks and Amazon have received the most public attention, they have been joined by various campaigns by workers in other, sometimes unexpected, sectors.
In a memo Thursday, the NRLB said 30 dancers at a topless bar in Hollywood, California, would vote next month on whether to join the Actors’ Equality Association, a union representing 51,000 professional actors and stage managers.
Dancers at the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar have been protesting for months for better working conditions, including higher wages, access to benefits, better security and safer settings.
If a majority of the dancers vote to unionize, they will become the only organized group of strippers in the United States. Previously, the San Francisco Lusty Lady strippers organized under the Exotic Dancers Union in 1996. The Lusty Lady closed in 2013.