News & Commentary

October 10, 2022

Nicholas Anway

Nicholas Anway is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary: The NLRB filed a complaint against Starbucks for violating federal labor law with anti-union tactics in Texas; a profile of Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz’s fight against unionization; and immigrant workers in Florida face wage theft and unsafe conditions as they rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Late last week, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) filed a complaint against Starbucks, alleging that the company “violated federal labor law by threatening and attempting to conduct surveillance of workers organizing unions in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio,” the Dallas Morning News reported. The NLRB’s complaint further alleges that Starbucks told employees that they would lose benefits if they unionized, interrogated workers about their interest in joining a union, and fired at least one employee who assisted unionization efforts. A Starbucks spokesperson expressed confidence that the company complies with labor laws, pointing to its recent offer to begin contract negotiations in October with the 238 stores that have voted to unionize in the U.S. But according to the Dallas Morning News, Starbucks workers in San Antonio and Houston have reportedly been fired for aiding union drives, leading to a strike last week at Houstin’s first unionized Starbucks store, the latest in a surge of labor organizing efforts in Texas. “I am looking forward to seeing more complaints from the NLRB because Starbucks owes a lot of apologies to a lot of [employees],” said Morgan Leavey, a Starbucks barista in Austin. 

Against this backdrop, the Washington Post profiled Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz’s fight against unionization at the company’s stores. Shultz, who has returned to Starbucks for a less-than-two-year stint as CEO, views unionization as an attack on his life’s work, according to the Post. “Why is this so personal to me?” Shultz asked an audience of 200 executives at a September investor event. “I know what it has taken to build this place.” As CEO, Shultz has been hostile to union organizing efforts; in court filings like the one described above, the NLRB has accused Starbucks of implementing a “‘virulent, widespread and well-orchestrated’ anti-union campaign that relied on firings, threat and surveillance.” “I’ve never met a businessman like him,” said Richard Bensinger, a Starbucks organizer in Seattle. “He hates unions more than he loves money.” 

Finally, NBC News reported that immigrant workers in Florida are facing wage theft and unsafe conditions as they rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. In the wake of the storm, immigrant workers in New York and other states were targeted with Spanish-language advertisements for day laborers in Florida, promising competitive wages and housing. But Ariadna Phillips, a New York community organizer with South Bronx Mutual Aid, has heard from several laborers that their wages have been docked for room and board, contrary to their initial employment offers. “This looks and smells like human trafficking,” she told NBC News.

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