Starbucks asks labor board to suspend union elections by mail-in ballot, alleging misconduct in voting process

Starbucks Workers United t-shirts hang outside as union workers strike over unfair labor practices outside a Starbucks location at 874 Commonwealth Avenue in the Brookline neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., Tuesday, 19 July 2022.

Scott Brauer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Starbucks asks the federal labor commission to suspend all union elections by mail-in ballot nationwide, alleging misconduct in the voting process by commission staff and the union organizing its baristas.

The Seattle-based coffee giant wrote in a letter Monday to the chairman and general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board that labor board officials acted improperly in a Kansas-area election. City and had probably acted similarly in other elections. Starbucks cited an NLRB career professional who approached the company as a whistleblower.

More than 220 Starbucks coffee shops in the United States have voted to unionize, according to an NLRB tally on Friday. 34 additional elections have been ordered or are in progress, and seven more stores are waiting to schedule elections.

Starbucks Workers United and the NLRB did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.

In addition to requesting a pause for all scheduled mail-in elections, Starbucks is asking that all future elections be held in person while the allegations can be investigated.

According to Starbucks, NLRB officials allegedly coordinated with union officials to arrange for in-person voting at labor board offices in the mail-in elections. The company also alleges that Workers United agents received confidential real-time information about specific vote counts so the union could target employees who had not yet voted. NLRB and Workers United officials would then have coordinated to cover up this activity, the company said.

Starbucks’ letter details email correspondence that allegedly took place between union representatives and labor board officials. The company said it was made aware of the content of the whistleblower’s emails.

Starbucks said similar behavior also occurred in elections in Seattle and Buffalo, New York.

“Until a thorough investigation is carried out, no one can guess how many elections in how many other regions have been similarly infected,” the company said in the letter.

Under interim CEO Howard Schultz, Starbucks has more aggressively opposed unionization efforts at its sites. So far, the number of unionized cafes is only a small fraction of the approximately 9,000 cafes owned by the Starbucks company, but the coffee chain has been working to curb union momentum.

For example, the company announced a new round of pay rises in May for permanent workers, but said the changes would not apply to unionized sites, saying they would have to go through the bargaining process. Earlier this month, Workers United has formally requested the company to extend wage increases to these locations.

Starbucks also faces 284 unfair labor practice charges from the union, according to the NLRB. The company’s allegations of misconduct include allegations that it unlawfully fired organizers, closed stores or harassed its employees to prevent baristas from unionizing. Starbucks has denied all anti-union allegations.

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