US Labor Agency Sues Starbucks over Treatment of Seattle Workers

The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday sued Starbucks over the coffee chain’s refusal to rehire 33 workers as it reorganized three downtown Seattle stores, including its flagship store in Pike Place Market.

In a petition filed in Seattle federal court, the agency called Starbucks’ plan to reorganize the stores into a “Heritage District,” and force 73 workers to reapply for their jobs, an illegal response to unionization efforts at one of the stores, at 1st Avenue and Pike Street.

By refusing to rehire 16 of the 22 workers there, Starbucks “chilled employees’ support for the union” at the other two stores “by sending a clear message about what would happen if they unionized,” the NLRB said.

The petition seeks an injunction to block Starbucks from firing or disciplining workers, denying them higher wages and benefits, or forcing them to reapply for jobs because of their union activities.

It also seeks to require Starbucks to offer jobs, with back pay and benefits, to the 33 people it let go.

Starbucks defended its actions, and said workers at the stores can seek to unionize through an NLRB-supervised election.

It said the agency’s proposed remedies “run contrary to the interests of our (employees) and threaten the hometown experience we offer our customers. We look forward to defending the establishment of our Heritage District.”

Starbucks has recently had strained relations with some employees, including last month when workers at dozens of U.S. stores went on strike to protest managers’ decisions not to let them hang rainbow flags and other Pride month decor.

The company ended its last fiscal year with 15,873 U.S. stores, of which 9,265 were company-operated and 6,608 were licensed. Starbucks’ company-operated stores employed about 248,000 people.

The case is Hooks v Starbucks Corp, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, No. 23-01000.