Starbucks, facing a wave of unionization approvals, is looking to suspend all elections after suspected misconduct between Starbucks Workers United and officials from the National Labor Relations Board, according to several media reports.
In a letter to the NLRB, the coffee chain said it was informed by a career NLRB employee about inappropriate behavior while overseeing an election in Overland Park, Kansas. Starbucks is accusing personnel from the NLRB St. Louis office of allowing pro-union Starbucks employees to vote at its office, according to the AP. Starbucks and Workers United previously agreed to handle all votes through mail-in ballots. The brand also alleges union officials were given confidential information about vote counts so they could reach out to those who hadn't participated yet. The NLRB whistleblower sent emails to Starbucks allegedly showing communication between the NLRB and union representatives.
Company-owned Starbucks shops began unionizing late last year in Buffalo. Since then more than 220 units across the country have voted in favor. There are nearly 9,000 corporate units in the U.S. as of June 27.
Thirty-four more elections have been ordered or are in progress, according to CNBC, and seven other locations are waiting to schedule an election. For the Overland Park store, workers petitioned to unionize in February and voted 6-1 to do so in April. However, seven ballots were challenged. A hearing is set for Tuesday, but Starbucks wants it delayed, the AP said.
Starbucks Workers United described the restaurant's move as the "latest attempt to manipulate the legal process for their own means and prevent workers from exercising their fundamental right to organize.”
"This is Starbucks yet again attempting to distract attention away from their unprecedented anti-union campaign, including firing over 75 union leaders across the country, while simultaneously trying to halt all union elections," the union said in a statement. "Workers have spoken loud and clear by winning 82 percent of union elections."
Starbucks said it has reason to believe similar misbehavior is occurring in Seattle, Buffalo, and New York. The company wants the NRLB to pause all elections, complete an investigation, and publicize its findings.
“If the NLRB does not respond by investigating and remedying these types of actions, we do not see how the board can represent itself as a neutral agency,” Starbucks said in the letter.
Starbucks cofounder Howard Schultz, who returned as interim CEO this spring, has voiced his opposition to the unionization movement. The restaurateur said in April that Starbucks wants to talk "constructively" with employees, but can't be “distracted by the different vision being put forward by union organizers at some Starbucks stores.” Around that time, he held collaboration sessions with stores across the country, and some of those were interrupted by union organizers.
“And while not all the partners supporting unionization are colluding with outside union forces, the critical point is that I do not believe conflict, division, and dissension—which has been a focus of union organizing—benefits Starbucks or our partners,” Schultz wrote in a letter.
In doesn't appear as if ongoing unionization efforts have impacted consumer sentiment thus far. Financial services firm BTIG surveyed 1,000 Starbucks consumers nationwide and found only 4 percent said they would never visit again if no agreement was struck between the company and union officials. Almost 70 percent said it wouldn't have any effect on their frequency.