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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz targeted in latest complaint to regulators about antiunion activity

By Bill Peters

New complaint focuses on executive-employee meetings over the past year; Starbucks said the complaint was ‘unfounded’

Chief Executive Howard Schultz and other Starbucks Corp executives reportedly violated labor laws last year when they met with workers to gather information on union support and work-related grievances, a labor official says.

Thursday’s National Labor Relations Board complaint from a Seattle regional official is the latest in a series of criticisms leveled this week at the company and Schultz over efforts by Starbucks (SBUX) to discourage workers from unionizing . The Huffington Post reported on Friday.

The complaint, obtained by HuffPo, alleged that from April to August last year, executives “held at least 100 in-person ‘collaboration’ or ‘co-creation’ sessions with employees across the country.” During these meetings, officials from the coffee chain vowed to “promptly address these grievances by providing employees with new or improved benefits.”

Read more: Starbucks workers claim company is busting unions. “That will be my priority,” says the congressman

In May of last year, the complaint states, Starbucks also decided to reorganize three coffee shops in downtown Seattle into a new “Heritage District” and told employees at those shops that they needed to reapply for their jobs.

The chain then “failed and refused” to rehire 33 of the 73 employees who worked at those stores. It then granted raises and new benefits to 40 new hires and others hired at those stores – a move the complaint said was in retaliation for union-related activity.

The Labor Board said it is seeking an order requiring Starbucks to take steps to inform employees of their rights, stop further action to hold meetings to trace their grievances and the 33 employees who are not at those stores be reinstated to offer financial compensation.

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Starbucks dismissed the complaint in a statement.

“This complaint has no merit and the remedial actions proposed by the General Counsel undermine our ability to make lawful and appropriate business decisions that enhance the Starbucks experience for our partners and our customers,” a Starbucks spokesperson said via email.

In detail: The push by the unions at Amazon, Apple and Starbucks could be the “most significant moment in the American labor movement” in decades

The National Labor Relations Board did not immediately respond to a request for more information. Starbucks shares rose 1.5% on Friday.

The coffee chain and Schultz himself came under closer scrutiny from lawmakers and other federal officials this week.

In a letter Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions — which he chairs — would vote this Wednesday to force Schultz to testify against the company over work-related grievances. Starbucks had declined to make Schultz available, saying his imminent departure as interim CEO made him the wrong person to discuss the matter.

“We are urging HELP members to vote to subpoena Howard and hold him accountable for the vicious anti-union campaign he has led over the past year,” Starbucks Workers United said on Friday.

Also Read: Starbucks Investors Urge Review of Company’s Handling of Union Activities

Earlier this week, a Labor Department clerk found that Starbucks broke the law “hundreds of times” to discourage employees from forming unions. The 218-page ruling — a response to numerous union complaints in 2021 and 2022 — requires Starbucks to reinstate seven fired workers and reopen closed stores in upstate New York, where workers’ union efforts began.

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The ruling also requires Starbucks to provide other compensation measures for employees who choose to organize and to stop other forms of intimidation or retaliation, and it prohibits managers from offering better benefits to employees who do not organize. The ruling also requires Schultz to read a notice explaining employee rights to employees in Buffalo stores.

Also during the week, Starbucks office workers called on the company to stop retaliating against workers who tried to organize, saying the company’s anti-union tactics were lowering morale.

Starbucks shares are up 14.3% over the past 12 months. For comparison, the S&P 500 Index is down 7.4% over this period.

Additional Information: Starbucks sent a letter to Congressmen calling for cooperation with unions

-Bill Peters

 

(ENDS) Dow Jones Newswires

03-03-23 ​​1603ET

Copyright (c) 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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