Starbucks alleges baristas union intimidated workers in new complaints with the labor board

Michelle Eisen, a barista at the Buffalo, NY, Elmwood Starbucks location, the first Starbuck location to unionize, helps out the local Starbucks Workers United, employees of a local Starbucks, as they gather at a local union hall to cast votes to unionize or not, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Mesa, Ariz.

Ross D. Franklin | AP

Starbucks filed two complaints with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday alleging that the union organizing its baristas broke federal labor law.

This marks the coffee chain’s first time on the other side of accusations around lawbreaking behavior amid the union battle.

Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, has filed dozens of complaints of its own against Starbucks with the NLRB, alleging that the company has illegally retaliated against, harassed and fired organizers in cafes across the country.

The government agency has similarly filed three complaints against Starbucks, according to Workers United, alleging in part that in Phoenix it threatened employees and fired organizers in retaliation. Starbucks has denied all allegations of union busting.

More than 200 of the coffee chain’s locations have filed paperwork to unionize under Workers United since August. To date, 24 stores have voted to unionize, with only two locations so far voting against.

In the complaints filed with the NLRB, Starbucks alleges that Workers United “unlawfully restrained and coerced partners in the exercise of their rights,” citing incidents that occurred at two cafes in Denver and Phoenix.

Starbucks claims in the filings that organizers physically blocked the entrances and exits of those stores, made threats and physically intimidated baristas who didn’t support the union drive.

The complaint alleges that organizers also yelled profanity at customers and hit cars with a picket sign as they tried to enter and exit the Denver location. The complaint does not detail when that incident occurred, but workers at the Denver cafe named in the filing held a strike March 11 to protest what they called unfair working conditions.

The Phoenix location mentioned in the filings is the same cafe that is at the center of some of the NLRB’s complaints against Starbucks.

Starbucks Workers United said the allegations are a “continuation of Starbucks’ war against its own partners.”

“It takes a lot of gall for a company that’s launched one of the most aggressive & intense anti-union campaigns in modern history to file these charges,” the union said in a statement to CNBC.

Rossann Williams, president of Starbucks’ North American operations, wrote in a letter to employees viewed by CNBC, said the company was filing the claims to protect its workers.

“We’re doing this to protect the physical safety and emotional wellbeing of our partners and to make it very clear that the behavior we’re seeing from some union organizers is not acceptable and we won’t tolerate it,” Williams said. “I want every partner to know we respect and honor all their rights — the right to choose a union, and the right to choose to speak for themselves.”