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Report: Starbucks alleges union vote misconduct

Starbucks says NLRB officials are acting inappropriately.

Starbucks is making serious allegations against the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

According to CNBC, Starbucks has submitted a letter to the National Labor Relations Board chairman and general counsel claiming misconduct on the part of NLRB officials relating to a recent Starbucks unionization vote in the Kansas City market.

In the letter, Starbucks said that officials from the NLRB worked with representatives of the Starbucks Workers United union to conduct in-person voting at NLRB offices while mail-in balloting to determine whether Kansas City area Starbucks workers could join Starbucks Workers United was being conducted.

According to the letter, a whistleblower informed Starbucks of the alleged inappropriate union-related activity. Starbucks also cited emails it said were exchanged between Starbucks Workers United and NLRB officials. Also alleging similar misconduct in union voting at Starbucks stores in Seattle and Buffalo, the letter requests a pause in Starbucks organizing activity until an investigation can be conducted.

“Until a thorough investigation is conducted it’s anyone’s guess how many elections in how many other regions have been similarly infected,” Starbucks said in the letter. The NLRB board has previously dismissed Starbucks allegations of harassment by union supporters at stores in Phoenix and Denver.

Starbucks responds to union activity
To date, approximately 200 of Starbucks's approximately 9,000 U.S. stores have voted to unionize. In May 2022, Starbucks announced a new round of pay hikes and other benefits for employees that included the average hourly wage going up $17 per hour, and a 7% pay increase to employees with more than five years of experience. 

However, the company said the new benefits will not apply to workers at the locations that have voted to unionize. Such changes at unionized stores would have to come through bargaining, the retailer noted.

In August, Starbucks Workers United wrote a letter to Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz in which the group said that Starbucks can legally offer benefits to employees at unionized stores without bargaining, as long as the union agrees.

Interim Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, an outspoken progressive on most issues, has made no secret of his opposition to the burgeoning union drive at Starbucks.

“We plan to move forward constructively with all Starbucks partners,” he wrote in a letter to employees in April 2022. “However, we must not be distracted by the different vision being put forward by union organizers at some Starbucks stores. And while not all the partners supporting unionization are colluding with outside union forces, the critical point is that I do not believe conflict, division and dissension – which has been a focus of union organizing – benefits Starbucks or our partners.”

In July 2022, Schultz wrote a letter to employees discussing his vision of the next generation of Starbucks. Today, we find ourselves in a position where we must modernize and transform the Starbucks experience in our stores and recreate an environment that is relevant, welcoming and safe, and where we uplift one another with dignity, respect and kindness,” Schultz wrote. “We need to reinvent Starbucks for the future.”

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