Starbucks worker: Phoenix case is about ‘holding Starbucks accountable’ for alleged union-busting behavior – Yahoo Finance

Starbucks (SBUX) is facing accusations of union-busting tactics after two employees in Phoenix alleged that they were punished for taking part in pro-union activities.

The coffee chain workers at the Arizona store claim that store managers are responsible for “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees” as an attempt to dissuade them from unionizing, a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleged.

“[This is] the first step in holding Starbucks accountable for their union-busting tactics and retaliation tactics against Starbucks workers,” Bill Whitmire, a shift supervisor at the North Phoenix store, told Yahoo Finance in a phone interview. “It’s sad that this had to happen. We work for Starbucks. I love Starbucks. We all love Starbucks. That’s why we stay at the company. And it’s sad that the company is not living by its values.”

Starbucks categorically denied the allegations.

“A partner’s interest in the union does not exempt them from the standards we have always held. We will continue to enforce our policies consistently for all partners,” a Starbucks spokesperson told Yahoo Finance in a phone interview. “And we will follow the NLRB’s process to resolve this complaint. Claims of anti-union activity in this case are categorically false.”

A Starbucks barista makes a hot beverage in a South Philadelphia store, before more than 8,000 branches nationwide will close this afternoon for anti-bias training, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania U.S., May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

‘It’s often very hard for workers to organize unions’

The union fight at Starbucks has intensified as more than 156 stores have filed for union elections. In a symbolic victory this week, baristas at an early era Seattle location unanimously voted for unionization on March 22.

The Phoenix labor case is just one of dozens pending around the country brought on against the company by the union, Workers United, which is an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

Against this backdrop, more and more stores continue to announce unionization campaigns and organizers feel confident that they’ll win the battle as now seven stores have unionized since December.

“The law protects workers’ right to organize unions, and it prohibits employers from coercing workers and the exercise of their rights from threatening them, from retaliating against them,” Columbia Law Professor Kate Andrias told Yahoo Finance. “That said, [the law] also allows employers to engage in a lot of anti-union campaigning” such as allowing employers “to hold captive audience meetings, which are meetings that employees are required to attend as a condition of employment at which they have to listen to anti-union campaigning.”

Andrias added that all things considered, “it’s often very hard for workers to organize unions.”

Allegation: ‘they tried to force her to quit

In the formal complaint, the regional director alleges that management fired one worker, Alyssa Sanchez, while suspending another, Laila Dalton, for their union organizing activity in January 2022.

“Four days after [we started organizing], Laila gets pulled in the back room and [is] harassed, and bullied, and they tried to force her to quit,” Whitmire said.

The publicly-traded Seattle coffee giant suspended Dalton and fired Sanchez “to discourage employees from engaging in these or other concerted activities,” the complaint alleges.

According to Whitmire, Dalton “said to me, ‘They’re writing me things up for things that I haven’t done. They’re writing me up for things that happened back in November. For example, they wrote her up for being nine minutes late.'”

Whitmire continued: “Okay. Let’s talk about that. I was 15 minutes late one day because I had the booster shot for COVID. I didn’t get written up. Technically, if Laila got written up for being nine minutes late, I should get a write-up [along with] everybody else in our store that has been late. But no one else has… The things I’m telling you about have only happened to Laila. No one else in our store has been scrutinized like Laila has.”

If a judge confirms the labor board’s allegations, Starbucks would potentially have to post notices informing employees of their legal rights in forming a union at the Phoenix location and reimburse Sanchez for lost wages.

Aside from the complaint, Whitmire said the environment after the store filing for unionization has been “very, very targeted towards union members” such as “all of a sudden cracking down on dress code.”

In a leaked video posted on Twitter by the More Perfect Union, one of the two employees in question, Laila Dalton, tears up after she was issued a written warning from her store manager.

“One of our pretty outspoken baristas that has pretty much been wearing his union pen since he filled out his union card… the manager just really was on him all day long, like I’ve ever seen before,” Whitmire said. “Literally from just like standing over his shoulder, watching him make every drink and telling him what he was doing wrong and then issuing a couple of warnings.”

The Phoenix labor complaint and rising union activity comes amid a shakeup at the top of Starbucks: On March 16, CEO Kevin Johnson announced that he will be stepping down and that former CEO Howard Schultz would be stepping in as the interim CEO.

Johnson had signaled to the board a year ago that he could be considering retirement, according to the company. It’s unclear how Schultz will handle the growing effort to organize at the company’s cafes.

Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv

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