Starbucks Agrees to Give Unionized Washington Workers Back Pay

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On Tuesday, June 13, Starbucks agreed to settle a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint that the company improperly blocked unionized employees from working coveted shifts at University of Washington games. The coffee leviathan agreed to pony up back pay for 10 workers who were denied those shifts and inform current and former employees in the Seattle area that it wouldn’t interfere with their right to organize, according to the Seattle Times.

Starbucks has been accused by Starbucks Workers United, the union organizing its employees, and regional NLRB directors of a variety of labor law violations. In March, a judge ruled that the company had illegally punished and fired workers involved in union organizing in Buffalo, New York, the city where the first Starbucks stores unionized in 2021. (Starbucks is appealing that decision.) More recently, the company has been accused of refusing to bargain in good faith, including not allowing workers to attend bargaining meetings via Zoom. Though around 300 stores nationwide have unionized (19 in Washington State), none have successfully negotiated a contract, a situation that has frustrated the union and led to a March protest outside of Starbucks’s corporate headquarters in SoDo.

In this case, Starbucks was accused of a very particular form of anti-union activity. Starbucks has a stand inside Husky Stadium, and working there during football games is a prized gig because of the perks that come with it, including a $3-an-hour pay bump. Last year, when Starbucks put out its usual call to local workers asking who wanted these UW game shifts, the company said that these shifts would not be available to unionized workers.

In August, Starbucks Workers United filed an NLRB complaint alleging this was an unfair labor practice. The company agreed to settle this complaint by giving back pay to affected union workers. According to the union, this was the first time Starbucks settled a complaint without refusing to admit guilt; a local union Twitter account said that by settling, Starbucks “effectively admits that they broke the law.” A union rep told the Times that she was “relieved Starbucks is finally willing to take accountability for something.”

Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull told the Times that the company would “continue to defend our retail leaders where we believe the allegations are unfounded,” but “in instances where local managers have failed to comply with our policies or guidance, we have worked with the union, our [employees] and the NLRB to reach an appropriate settlement — just as we have done in several other matters across the country.”

Though relations between Starbucks Workers United and management remain testy, the union is continuing to organize stores in the Seattle area and nationwide. Locally, the most recent store attempting to unionize is in Redmond, where employees filed a petition with the NLRB in May.

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