In December of 2021, the first Starbucks location voted to unionize, and since, over 300 locations have followed suit including several in Chicago alone. However, the efforts of Starbucks unions such as Starbucks Workers United or Workers United have not been a walk in the park as the multi-billion dollar coffee company has been accused of using union-busting tactics. Additionally, collective bargaining between union leaders and the Starbucks corporation has been at a standstill.
Labor unions have been an integral part of the American workforce since 1794 when a group of shoemakers in Philadelphia formed the first American union called the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers. However, not all workers were welcome to join this union. It was not until 1867 with the National Union of Cigar Makers before women and black workers were able to join a union.
5 Key Takeaways From Starbucks Unionization
Despite several hurdles, American unions — and thereby employee rights for all — have only grown stronger because organizers have learned from each unionization attempt. That being said, a lot can be learned from the union activity at Starbucks as well. Here are 5 key takeaways from Starbucks unionization efforts for other unions and employees.
1) Employers Cannot Interfere With Unionizing Efforts
Some companies do not want their employees to unionize. In fact, former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz (as of March 2023), has openly objected to the union activity at Starbucks stores. But, thanks to the National Labor Relations Act (1935), private sector employees have the right to form a union. United States labor law prohibits employers from trying to interfere with the union’s momentum.
This might look like threatening or firing employees who want to join or form a union to thwart their movement. It’s important to record and document all evidence of such threats and immediately report the incident to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). You may even consider hiring a lawyer in case you are owed compensation and need to collect damages.
2) Employers Must Engage in Union Contract Negotiations
Once a union is formed, federal labor law requires the employer to bargain in good faith with the union so the two parties can settle on a collective bargaining agreement. While it is illegal for a company to interrupt or hinder this process, the law does not provide a timeline for these negotiations, creating a notable grey area in this important process. Without a collective bargaining agreement, the union itself remains more of an idea than a shield of protection.
Since the first Starbucks was unionized, it would seem that the corporation has made several attempts to stall negotiations or avoid them altogether. For example, when the Edgewater location in Chicago, IL was unionized in May of 2022, their doors were suddenly closed just four days before contract bargaining was to begin.
The workers were able to move to other stores, however, they would have no contract and their union status would not come with them. While a Starbucks representative stated that the closure was due to “unspecified safety concerns”, employees and organizers remain skeptical of the corporation’s true intentions.
Another red flag was raised when the company refused to bargain with union leaders through Zoom. On March 27th, 2023, this became more than just an allegation when the NLRB determined that this refusal was, in fact, an illegal attempt to delay negotiations.
Why are collective bargaining agreements so important?
Every union has a collective bargaining agreement between union members and their employers that outlines the legal protections for both parties. This agreement outlines important policies that protect work conditions such as time off, breaks, workers’ compensation, and more.
Bargaining over a contract is usually a very long process requiring many meetings between the two parties. Union organizers face an uphill battle as the negotiations themselves may outlast the careers of the Starbucks workers — and the Starbucks corporation may be counting on exactly that to happen.
Without these agreements, a union would be no more than a support group for workers. Any delay in these negotiations is a huge violation of workers’ rights. And not just for union members but for all workers in that field.
3) The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Helps Protect Union Rights
Since Starbucks’ unionizing efforts began, several hundred unfair labor practice charges have been filed against the company. A number of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) judges have found that the corporation has in fact violated federal labor law. For example, on March 1, 2023, an NLRB judge found that Starbucks committed
“egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights.”
The judge ordered the Starbucks location to reinstate the union organizers they illegally fired and reopen stores they unlawfully closed. They also had to pay damages.
In another case, an NLRB judge ruled that a Chicago barista who was fired at a Hyde Park location had to be reinstated and compensated for any lost earnings that resulted from the firing.
The NLRB is here to squash union-busting and is vigilant in enforcing fair practices from employers. But note that the NLRB is also here to ensure that unions follow labor laws as well. Knowing the law while organizing can help prevent any hindrance to the union that could have otherwise been avoided.
4) Unionizing Can Help All Workers and Inspire Other Companies to Unionize
It’s easy to assume that the Starbucks union movement has nothing to do with you if you do not work for the company. However, this may not be true. Unions have always had far-reaching effects on the workforce as a whole.
Take the National Labor Union, for example, which formed on August 20, 1866. Their first order of business was to call on Congress to limit the work day to just 8 hours. Today, an 8-hour work day is the standard for most positions.
Starbucks unionization has already had an impact on other industries where workers have voted to unionize such as Apple, Trader Joe’s, and Amazon. Some suggest that this may reverse the decline of union membership in the last decade and could influence the work environment for millions of Americans.
5) An Experienced Labor and Employment Lawyer Will Fight for Workers’ Rights
Unionizing is not for the faint of heart. It is no small task as we have seen with Starbucks employees. At the end of the day, it is a legal process that involves complicated contracts, agreements, and negotiations. A skilled labor and employment lawyer knows union law and how to help organizers successfully form a union.
Having been part of a union family growing up, Larry Disparti is passionate about protecting workers’ rights. At Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers, we’re experts on union law and support unions by:
- negotiating collective bargaining agreements.
- interpreting and advising on contracts.
- advising on internal affairs, such as elections.
- handling legal issues relating to strikes, picketing, boycotts, organizing, and anti-corporate campaigns.
- handling all matters at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), including petitions for certification, de-certification, and de-authorization elections
- filing unfair labor practice charges at the NLRB.
- representing unions and workers at hearings before an administrative law judge.
- handling class actions that benefit the workers.
We want to level the playing field with big corporations. Reach out today for a FREE consultation or call (312) 600-6000.