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Starbucks Broke the Law at Unionized Capitol Hill Store, NLRB Rules

The coffee company lost yet another case filed by union baristas before the federal labor board

The Starbucks corporate builidng
The Starbucks headquarters in Sodo
Harry Cheadle is the editor of Eater Seattle.

Starbucks was dealt a loss by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Tuesday, June 20, when the federal agency ruled that the coffee titan broke the law in dealing with Seattle’s first unionized Starbucks, the now-shuttered store on Broadway and Denny in Capitol Hill.

Complaints against Starbucks by the union that has been organizing its stores nationally for the past few years have become common. Organizer allege the company has closed stores that unionized and fired employees because of their union activities. In this case, Starbucks was accused of preventing workers at the Capitol Hill store from engaging in union activities during paid breaks, and also forcing barista Rachel Ybarra to get someone to cover their shift while they testified before the NLRB in a hearing that was happening because Starbucks was contesting the union election.

The union at the Capitol Hill location eventually triumphed in that case, and successfully bargained a contract with the company — though Starbucks closed the store last November, one of several closures the company made for “safety” reasons, it said. (Last year, Ybarra told the Seattle Times that the union contract helped the laid-off employees secure severance.)

Tuesday’s NLRB decision doesn’t have an enormous amount of real-world consequence because the store has already closed, but it does mean that Starbucks will have to mail a notice to the store’s former employees informing them of their rights to unionize. It also is another loss for Starbucks in front of the NLRB. Last week, the NLRB ruled that Starbucks had to give back pay to unionized Seattle baristas who were barred by the company from getting plum shifts at University of Washington football games. And in March, an NLRB judge ruled that Starbucks engaged in “egregious and widespread misconduct” when it opposed the unionization campaigns in Buffalo, New York, stores that were the first in the nation the unionize.

Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull told the Seattle Times that the company disagreed with Tuesday’s decision and was “exploring opportunities for further legal review.”