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Starbucks loses legal battle against Philadelphia union workers

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(The Center Square) — While workers at a Starbucks in Pittsburgh want to decertify their union, the union at the coffee chain’s Philadelphia locations secured a victory in court.

In a dispute over the company retaliating against workers trying to unionize, Administrative Law Judge Michael A. Rosas of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Starbucks “engaged in certain unfair labor practices” at six stores around Center City.

The decision noted that Starbucks committed 10 violations, among them: threatening employees that union support would lead to the loss of benefits and wage increases; more strictly enforcing rules and policies after filing a petition to unionize; and reducing store hours because workers took unionizing actions.

Starbucks is also required to reinstate two workers to their jobs and make them “whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits resulting from their unlawful layoff.”

Though most of the ruling went in favor of the Starbucks Workers United union (an SEIU affiliate) Rosas dismissed allegations that the company held “captive audience” meetings to discourage unionization.

Last year, the six stores voted to unionize and in July, five of them carried out a one-day strike.

The push for unionization is different from the western side of a state, where a Pittsburgh-area store that unionized now has workers attempting to decertify its union only a year after it was created, as The Center Square previously reported. There, workers at the Penn Center East store argue the atmosphere has become “very chaotic.”

Within Philadelphia’s stores, worker-manager relations during the union campaign were tense.

At the Penn Medicine location, managers told employees that benefits would be lost and no more raises would be given after a previously announced raise if unionization happened. Implying that employees wouldn’t qualify for raises after unionization constituted an unlawful threat, the NLRB decision noted.

Starbucks’ anti-union activity at the 12th and Walnut store constituted a “campaign of misinformation and coercion,” the decision noted.

At four stores, Starbucks “began enforcing its dress code more strictly after the filing of the election petitions — often to bar employees from wearing Union shirts.” Enforcing rules more strictly in response to union activity, the decision noted, is illegal.

Statewide, 23 Starbucks locations have unionized and two have filed a unionization petition, according to Starbucks Workers United.

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