Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
February 01, 2024
The campaign by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to organize Starbucks has had many twists and turns since it first launched in 2021. While the campaign initially resulted in hundreds of petitions being filed, that pace has slowed dramatically. In the meantime, it has caused the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to engage in a number of unusual tactics and procedures to assist the union and has seen credible allegations of misconduct on the part of the NLRB by an inside whistleblower. The NLRB’s Inspector General and Congress have also become engaged in the campaign. The articles below will help you keep up with the latest.
SEIU and NLRB Are Angry at Starbucks
The NLRB will retaliate against companies that exercise their rights.
February 1, 2024
When one is called into federal court, it makes sense to utilize all the options available to defend oneself. However, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Starbucks Workers United union [essentially a front for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)] are angry that Starbucks has done just that. Now, the union is seeking additional government intervention, this time from the Department of Labor (DOL).
At the heart of this story is the concept of a 10(j) injunction. When the NLRB seeks to take immediate action against an employer, as opposed to waiting for its internal adjudicatory processes to play out, it can ask a federal court to approve a 10(j) injunction. If the court approves the injunction, the company must cease whatever behavior sparked the request.
Of course, going into federal court means that the company in question gets the opportunity to oppose the injunction, and to use legal tools like subpoenas as part of its defense. Not surprisingly, Starbucks did so in a case involving stores in Buffalo, New York. And this appears to have made the NLRB and the SEIU mad.
Union Campaign Against Starbucks Heads to Geneva
A recent letter draws attention to the fact that only Congress can change federal labor law, no matter what labor unions say.
November 1, 2023
In a recent letter to Department of Labor Acting Secretary Julie Su, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy reminded her, and us all, that only Congress can change federal labor law. The letter is in response to a complaint Workers United (an offshoot of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) filed with the International Labor Organization (ILO) earlier this year arguing that U.S. labor laws fail to comport with ILO standards and all but demands passage of the PRO Act.
Workers United is attempting to use the ILO’s complaint mechanism as a lever in its campaign against Starbucks.
More Starbucks Locations Seek to Drop Unions but NLRB Continues to Say No
Workers at 10 different Starbucks locations are seeking to decertify their union, but the National Labor Relations Board is blocking their vote.
July 19, 2023
A recent report in BNA (subscription required) states that workers at 10 Starbucks locations have now sought to decertify their union, Starbucks Workers United (SWU). Decertification is a process by which, after a union has been in place for at least a year, workers can take a vote to rid themselves of union representation.
There’s just one snag. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been telling workers they can’t have that vote.
That’s because NLRB officials are allowed to claim that conditions are not right for a free and fair vote (and, surprise, that’s exactly what they have been doing). It’s also because, under NLRB policy, unions are allowed to file so-called blocking charges that prevent a vote from taking place. It works like this: when a union discovers that workers are trying to decertify, they file a host of unfair labor practice (ULP) charges against the employer, regardless of whether those allegations have any merit. While the NLRB investigates these charges, no decertification vote can take place. The SWU, or in reality the Service Employees International Union which really runs it, has vowed to file blocking charges every time workers try to exercise their right to decertify.
The NLRB is making this problem worse by seeking to overturn a Trump-era rule that would at least allow decertification elections to go forward, but then hold the ballots until ULPs are resolved. So, what we have is an agency that is supposed to protect workers’ rights: 1) telling workers it won’t let them have a vote to get rid of an unwanted union, and 2) working to give unions unfettered ability to deny workers any ability to exercise their rights.
This is certainly not the way government is supposed to work. And it only reinforces the point that when the NLRB comes to Congress asking for more money, it should receive a firm “no.”
NLRB Rejects Starbucks Workers’ Attempt to Leave Union
June 1, 2023
On May 25, the NLRB Regional Director for Region 3 rejected a decertification petition filed by workers at a Starbucks location in Buffalo, New York. Decertification petitions are filed by workers when they decide that they no longer want a union to represent them.
NLRB Claims Starbucks Violates the Law by Defending Itself Against the NLRB
May 17, 2023
In one of the more unusual twists in the saga of the union campaign against Starbucks, an NLRB Administrative Law Judge ruled that Starbucks violated federal labor law by issuing more than 20 subpoenas approved and upheld by an Article 3 court in litigation against the company. The irony is that the litigation was brought by the NLRB itself.
Starbucks Employees File Petitions to Leave Union
May 12, 2023
Workers at a Starbucks café in Rochester, New York, filed a petition with the NLRB to decertify the SEIU's front group, known as Starbucks Workers United. The SEIU had won an election in April 2022 by a vote of 13-11. Another decertification petition was filed two days later at a store in Manhattan.
A decertification petition means that a sufficient group of workers in the store have decided they want to get rid of their union. The two petitions in New York are the second and third decertifications to have been filed in as many weeks. A location in Buffalo, which was one of the first stores to unionize, also has filed for decertification.
NLRB Trips Over Itself to Promote the SEIU
May 9, 2023
The SEIU campaign to unionize Starbucks has generated a lot of attention. It has also generated credible allegations from a whistleblower that the NLRB has been playing favorites, helping the SEIU win elections. The allegations have triggered an investigation by the NLRB’s Inspector General into how the agency is conducting mail ballot elections. The U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee has also begun examining the allegations.
A Double Shot of False Attacks from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
March 29, 2023
On March 29, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), held the latest Senate hearing related to unions, entitled: “No Company is Above the Law: The Need to End Illegal Union Busting at Starbucks.” The title didn’t leave much ambiguity as to Sen. Sanders’s views, and much like his March 8 hearing, the March 29 hearing was long on accusations and innuendo and short on the realities of how organizing campaigns and the judicial system work. In the case of this hearing, the main focus was on Starbucks, and it was evident that Sen. Sanders was unhappy with the company and its former CEO, Howard Schultz.
New U.S. Chamber Report Calls Out the NLRB’s Continued Reliance on Flawed Mail Ballots
March 24, 2023
A new report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce calls out the NLRB for its continued use of mail ballots over its long-standing preference for in-person secret ballot elections when workers vote on forming a union. As the report notes, the National Labor Relations Act specifies that the method to be used for union representation elections is the in-person secret ballot.
In mail ballot elections at Starbucks in particular, there have been credible allegations that the election process has been tampered with by NLRB officials. Not only is the NLRB’s Inspector General investigating, but an NLRB hearing officer found merit to complaints that NLRB agents had engaged in specific misconduct around mail ballots.
Maligned Mail Ballots and Whistleblowers: The NLRB’s Credibility Comes into Question
March 23, 2023
In 2020, the NLRB significantly increased the frequency of elections conducted by mail-ballot rather than traditional in-person secret balloting by employees. This was a significant departure from the Board’s prior position disfavoring the use of mail-ballots as a flawed, ineffective, and unfair process for elections in most circumstances. In some ways, the Board’s decision at the time was reasonable—the country was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there was concern that in-person elections might put voters and Board agents at risk.
Unfortunately, the NLRB has hung on to the widespread use of mail-ballot elections for far too long. Three years later, it has become clear that its historic wariness of mail-ballot elections was correct and justified. Election data and anecdotal evidence demonstrate that the experimental increase of mail-ballot elections has prejudiced the rights of both employees and employers by stifling voter participation and skewing outcomes in favor of union representation.
6 Questions Senator Bernie Sanders Should Ask in Upcoming Hearings — But Probably Won’t
March 6, 2023
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) scheduled a number of hearings on the subject of labor law. These included a hearing on alleged company interference with union organizing, a special hearing on whether to issue a subpoena for the CEO of Starbucks to appear before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee (of which Sen. Sanders is the Chairman), and another hearing to decide whether the Chairman will have the authority to launch unlimited “investigations” into alleged “violations of federal labor law by major corporations.”
Premature Cheers from the NLRB: Federal Court Vacates Order in Starbucks Case
March 1, 2023
A judge in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on February 23 rejected the NLRB's request for a nationwide cease-and-desist order against Starbucks, handing the company an important win against the overzealous agency’s ongoing case against it. Instead, the judge ruled that his order would be limited to one Starbucks store in Ann Arbor, MI, where an employee had been discharged for violating company policies.
Has the Unionization “Wave” Crested at Starbucks?
January 19, 2023
Over the past year, numerous media outlets have gushed over a purported “surge” in unionization. Given these stories, one might assume that unions are spreading like wildfire. The U.S. Chamber has written about why that’s not the case, but recent data from the campaign to organize Starbucks only further illustrates that, if there had been a wave, it seems to certainly have crested.
About the authors
Spencer oversees the Chamber’s work on immigration, retirement security, traditional labor relations, human trafficking, wage hour and worker safety issues, EEOC matters, and state labor and employment law.