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NLRB Alleges Starbucks Harassed and Threatened Unionizing Workers in Santa Cruz

The National Labor Relations Board filed a formal complaint against the company Wednesday, alleging federal labor law violations against pro-union workers

Unionized Starbucks employees in Santa Cruz. Melisa Martinez, Starbucks Workers United
Paolo Bicchieri is a reporter at Eater SF writing about Bay Area restaurant and bar trends, coffee and cafes, and pop-ups.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Oakland Region, issued a complaint against Starbucks Wednesday accusing the company of violating federal labor law, including 11 infractions that took place at two unionized Starbucks shops in Santa Cruz. The complaint alleges a total of eight instances involving the Ocean Street store and three at the Mission Street location; meanwhile, the NLRB nationally has issued complaints against Starbucks locations in other states including New York, Tennessee, and Kansas.

The NLRB complaint accuses Starbucks of harassing, threatening, coercing, and restraining Santa Cruz employees in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. The Starbucks Workers United union previously proposed a settlement related to the alleged infractions, which the company rejected, according to a Starbucks Workers United press release. Joe Thomas, a Starbucks shift lead and organizer for the union at the Ocean Street store, says workers were reprimanded for dress code while wearing a union hat and multiple union buttons, which Starbucks claims is against company policy. The NLRB stated the dress code is against federal law, which protects the right of employees to organize a union and express that support. “The significance of this charge says, ‘You need to get rid of this dress code,’” Thomas says. “And to tell workers they have the right to freely organize their workplaces.”

In addition to targeting uniforms, the complaint alleges Starbucks cut hours of pro-union employees and engaged in captive audience practices — cornering workers in one-on-one or anti-union meetings. The NLRB wants captive audiences to be considered illegal; the practice is currently legal under the NLRA but considered predatory. Eater reached out to Starbucks for comment but did not receive an answer in time for publication.

The complaint comes as the union movement spreads throughout California. In Mill Valley, a high school employee is organizing fellow Starbucks workers, and Thomas says that San Francisco and Oakland could see action soon, too. As the Santa Cruz teams head into bargaining, Thomas says they’re looking forward to an administrative hearing on June 28. They may have a rally or demonstration to put together between now and the end of the month since they’re confident they’ll see yet another victory. “Starbucks continues to berate and harass workers rather than support their workers,” Thomas says. “It’s clear now that what we’ve said all along is true: Starbucks is union-busting. Twenty employees have been fired across the country. We’re all feeling the wrath of the Starbucks anti-union crusade.”