A banner is seen as activists participate in an event called Un-Birthday Party and the picket line for Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on July 19, 2022 in New York City. Activists gathered near Schultz’s home in West Village on his 75th birthday to protest the treatment of Starbucks workers trying to form unions, as well as Schultz’ recent announcement to permanently close 16 locations.
Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images
Starbucks is asking the Federal Labor Council to suspend all mail-in union elections nationwide, alleging misconduct in the voting process by board members and the union that organizes its baristas.
The Seattle-based coffee giant wrote in a letter to the National Labor Relations Board President and General Counsel Monday that Labor Council officials behaved improperly during an election in the Kansas City area and likely acted similarly in another. Starbucks cited an NLRB professional who contacted the company as a whistleblower.
More than 220 Starbucks coffee shops in the United States have voted to form unions, according to an NLRB count as of Friday. An additional 34 elections have been ordered or are in progress, and seven more stores are waiting to schedule elections.
The Starbucks Workers Union and NLRB did not immediately respond to requests for comment from CNBC.
In addition to ordering a pause on all scheduled elections by mail in its US stores, Starbucks is requiring that all future elections be held in person while the allegations can be investigated.
According to Starbucks, NLRB officials allegedly coordinated with union agents to arrange voting in person at Labor Council offices during the postal ballot elections. The company also claims that UW agents obtained classified, real-time information about a specific vote count so the union could target employees who had not yet voted. The company said NLRB officials and Workers United subsequently coordinated to cover up the activity.
Starbucks letter details email correspondence that allegedly occurred between union representatives and labor council officials. The company said it was informed of the contents of the emails by the whistleblower.
Starbucks said similar behavior occurred in elections in Seattle and Buffalo, New York, as well.
“Until a thorough investigation is conducted, anyone can guess the number of elections in how many other regions have been similarly affected,” the company said in the letter.
Under interim CEO Howard Schultz, Starbucks has vehemently opposed the efforts of unions at its sites. So far, the number of union coffee shops is a small part of the company’s nearly 9,000 Starbucks-owned coffee shops, but the coffee chain is working to curb the union’s momentum.
For example, Starbucks announced a new round of wage increases in May for temporary workers, but said the changes would not apply to union sites, saying they would have to go through the negotiation process. Earlier this month, the United Labor Organization formally asked the company to extend wage increases to those locations.
Starbucks also faces 284 charges of union unfair labor practices, according to the NLRB. Allegations of misconduct by the company include allegations that it illegally fired regulators, closed stores or harassed its employees to prevent baristas from forming unions. Starbucks has denied all allegations of syndicate breaches.
The company filed two of its own charges against union organizers in Phoenix and Denver with the Labor Council. The NLRB rejected Phoenix’s claim, saying there was insufficient evidence that pro-union workers harassed fellow employees and customers during a rally.