Starbucks Formally Accuses the NLRB of Collusion with Unions

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As set forth in this newsletter recently, Starbucks has been the subject of a corporate campaign by unions to organize Starbucks employees and in the process claim the employer is a law violator and bad employer.  In late August, Starbucks took an incredibly bold move publicly accusing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of secretly colluding with the union organizing its workers to manipulate elections.  The company wrote in a 16-page letter to NLRB officials that it had received inside information from a "career NLRB professional" supporting its allegations.  The letter was sent to the NLRB Board members and to the NLRB General Counsel as well as Inspector General David Berry, requesting an investigation of the misconduct.  Among other things, the letter says that NLRB officials gave union agents real-time confidential vote counts during mail balloting, illegally allowed in-person voting for certain workers, provided additional ballots, made individual voting arrangements, mishandled ballots, and tried to cover up its misconduct.  A former NLRB General Counsel said that an investigation validating any of Starbucks' allegations would be "devastating" and a former NLRB Chairman said "I've never seen anything like this."  Starbucks has previously alleged that the NLRB had violated its duty of impartiality by indicating to workers that it favored the union.

There is a possibility that the announcement could only have a public relations impact, but could cause the Inspector General to launch an investigation and attract the interest of Congress.  Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who would likely head the Education and Labor Committee if the Republicans take the House in November's mid-term elections, suggested the panel should investigate the claims.  

When ballots materialize without a postmark during the ballot counting, an NLRB employee allegedly falsely asserted that "Board protocol" allowed some workers to vote in-person at the agency's office.  With the union leading in the ballot counting, an NLRB employee took a number of unopened ballots that were challenged by the union or Starbucks out of the room to photocopy in the Overland Park, Kansas election.  The NLRB employee then signed the Starbucks' attorney's name to the ballot tally despite her objections.  

Starbucks is asking the NLRB to suspend other mail-ballot elections until an investigation is done.  It also wants future elections to be conducted exclusively in-person, as they were before the pandemic.  Starbucks also claims that it has encountered "misconduct and the absence of neutrality" by NLRB agents in numerous unfair labor practice cases.  Starbucks notes that the NLRB General Counsel and its offices often claim that Starbucks committed more than 100 "unfair labor practice" violations, even though none of these complaints to date have been proven.  

Starbucks is taking steps to convince workers that they will be better off without a union, including operational changes to make jobs easier on its baristas, along with pay increases, which has caused the company to spend some $1 billion.  The pay increases have been extended to non-union stores, but not union stores, because of the collective bargaining process necessary at the union stores.  So far, more than 150 stores have voted to unionize.

This article is part of our November 2022 Newsletter.

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