Revealed: Starbucks fired over 20 US union leaders in recent months
Workers at the coffee chain have filed petitions for union elections at more than 250 stores, but chief Howard Schultz publicly opposes the movement
Starbucks has fired over 20 union leaders around the US over the past several months as union organizing campaigns have spread across the country, the Guardian can reveal.
The news comes as Starbucks workers have filed petitions for union elections at more than 250 stores, spanning 35 states in the US. Starbucks’ chief executive, Howard Schultz, has led a campaign against the union movement calling it “some outside force that’s going to dictate or disrupt who we are and what we do”.
The US’s top labor regulator, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), has issued complaints against Starbucks over many of the firings, demanding reinstatement and backpay for seven fired workers in Memphis, Tennessee, three fired workers in Overland, Kansas, six fired workers in Buffalo, New York, and three fired workers in Arizona. These cases will go before an administrative law judge unless a settlement is reached before those hearings.
The NLRB has accused Starbucks of more than 200 violations of federal labor laws over the course of union organizing campaigns since late 2021. NLRB regional offices have issued complaints in regards to 45 cases against Starbucks, according to the NLRB. Starbucks also incited more legal concerns over recently announcing the rollout of new benefits for all employees, but exempting workers at unionized stores. Workers at several Starbucks stores have held strikes in protest of the company’s behavior toward union organizing.
Laila Dalton, a shift supervisor at Starbucks for about three years in Phoenix, Arizona, was fired the day before her store’s union election ballots were being sent out. Dalton said she started getting write-ups for minor infractions and was interrogated and intimidated by management shortly after her store went public with its intent to unionize. Dalton filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB before her firing over harassment from management.
“I filed a complaint, an unfair labor practice charge, and that’s when it kind of all started,” said Dalton.
She was fired on 4 April and has since been included in the NLRB complaint calling for reinstatement for her and two co-workers.
“It was the day before the ballots were sent out. It was in front of people I’ve never met before and it was an hour into Howard Schultz being in office and his town hall speech,” added Dalton. “I still can’t believe they fired me since I already had a complaint against them.”
Union organizers at Starbucks have also been fired in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Louisiana and Rochester, New York.
Ashlee Feldman, a shift supervisor at a Starbucks store in St Louis, Missouri, for three years, was fired a few days before her store’s union election ballots were to be mailed out. Feldman said she was fired after she closed the dining area of her Starbucks store to drive-thru only temporarily due to short staffing.
“I believe I was fired for being a shift supervisor who was pro-union,” said Feldman. “I’ve been with Starbucks almost three years and have never had any issues.”
She is in the process of filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board to get reinstated.
“I’m shocked at this firing and all I can think about is my eight-year-old autistic son who needs therapy and care that costs money,” added Feldman. “These higher-ups don’t care about us. They aren’t in the stores busting ass like we are. They don’t connect with the customers like we do.”
In regard to Feldman’s termination, a Starbucks spokesperson said: “A partner’s interest in a union does not exempt them from the standards we have always held. Any claims of anti-union activity are categorically false.”
According to the National Labor Relations Board, as of 13 May, 69 Starbucks stores have voted to form unions, nine stores voted against, and six union elections are still pending an outcome, based on challenged ballots.