News & Commentary

February 14, 2023

Travis Lavenski

Travis Lavenski is a student at Harvard Law School.

Happy Valentine’s Day OnLabor readers! In today’s news & commentary, the Labor Board finds Starbucks illegally threatened and punished two Philadelphia workers; workers at a California Medieval Times location go on strike over unfair labor practices; and Tesla workers in Buffalo signal their intent to organize.

The NLRB has ruled Starbucks violated federal labor laws at two Philadelphia stores in an attempt to undermine organizing drives at those stores. Among the unlawful activities engaged in by Starbucks included terminating two union supporting workers, reducing union supporters’ work hours, and prohibiting concerted complaints about store conditions. Notably, the NLRB ruling provides for relief beyond the traditional reinstatement and backpay remedy, requiring the company to pay for “direct or foreseeable pecuniary harms incurred as a result of the unlawful adverse actions against them, including reasonable search-for-work and interim employment expenses.” The decision is in accordance with a recent ruling, Thryv Inc., 372 NLRB No. 22 (2022), which provided that the make-whole remedy is incomplete without providing relief for the significant costs that occur due to termination, including credit card debt and medical expenses.

Workers at a Medieval Times restaurant location in Buena Park, California walked off the job on Saturday in protest of the company shutting down the union’s social media. The account was banned after the company sued the union for copyright infringement for using their trademarked logo. “They’ve been censoring us, they’ve been censoring our supporters on social media,” said striking employee Kate Farrell. “They’re just trying to silence us because they know they’re not treating us fairly.” Workers at the location also report unsustainable understaffing levels and discriminatory pay increases at nonunion stores. Lead organizer Erin Zapic told reporters that the workers will be out on strike “basically every day for the foreseeable future until we can make some kind of meaningful progress with the company.” In the meantime, the company is temporarily using workers from other Medieval Times locations to fill in for the striking workers’ shifts. The workers, who voted to join the American Guild of Variety Artists union last November, have yet to secure a contract. The union has created a GoFundMe page to support striking workers, accessible here.

Tesla workers in Buffalo, New York have reportedly notified Telsa CEO Elon Musk that they intend to organize. The workers indicated their desire to achieve better pay, job security, and reduced production pressures. The union, if formed, would become the first union to represent Tesla employees. The car company has been charged with union-busting in its response to past union drives.

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