Union Accuses Starbucks of 'Shock and Awe' Tactics to Dissuade Two Stores From Unionizing

Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union and the union looking to represent Starbucks employees, has filed objections to the results of two recent union elections in New York, accusing the company of using a "shock and awe" campaign to intimidate employees from voting in favor of a union.

Last week, an election resulted in a 19-8 vote in favor of unionization at a Buffalo, New York, Starbucks, the first of the company's 8,000 U.S. stores to do so.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified the results of the election Friday, making it official that Starbucks will have to enter into labor negotiations with an organized union for the first time in its 50-year history.

"We don't want to fight Starbucks — we're asking them to turn over a new leaf," said Jaz Brisack, an organizer at the store.

Two other Buffalo-area stores in Hamburg and Cheektowaga held their elections around the same time, and petitions are pending with the NLRB for potential union votes for two Boston locations, three other New York stores and a Starbucks in Mesa, Arizona, according to The Associated Press.

Workers United filed the objections with the NLRB Thursday, saying frequent speeches from managers on the downsides of unionization and the reduction of hours for pro-union employees were intimidation tactics that influenced the results of the votes.

The Hamburg location voted 12-8 against unionizing, and the Cheektowaga vote is not yet public as seven total votes are being disputed by the union or Starbucks.

Workers United said the employees "were subjected to a massive campaign of overwhelming psychological force from the moment they publicly expressed the desire to form a union."

Starbucks, Union, Buffalo, Labor Negotiations
The union seeking to represent Starbucks employees accused the company of intimidation tactics at two Buffalo-area stores to discourage employees from voting for unionization. Above, Starbucks employees alter a campaign sign during a news conference after their union election viewing party on December 9 in Buffalo, New York. Joshua Bessex/Associated Press

The NLRB will review the claims, and if it agrees with the union's complaints, it can set aside the election and determine if a second election should be held.

"These claims are grossly inaccurate. We did not and do not engage in intimidation tactics," Starbucks responded in a statement. "We are partners and we show up for one another. That's what we do and what we continue to do."

The 50-year-old company has actively fought unionization for decades, saying its more than 8,000 company-owned U.S. stores function best when it works directly with employees.

Dozens of managers were sent to speak against the efforts in individual and group meetings with employees, according to the filings. Workers were told they could lose benefits under a union, and pro-union employees were allegedly spied on and saw their schedules changed and hours reduced.

The actions disrupted the "laboratory conditions" considered necessary for a fair election, the union said.

Workers at all three stores began voting by mail last month on whether they wanted to be represented by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

Update (12/17, 6:58 PM): This story was updated to reflect the NLBR's certification of the vote to unionize at one Buffalo location.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Starbucks, Union, Buffalo, Labor Negotiations
Last week, an election resulted in a 19-8 vote in favor of unionization at a Buffalo, New York, Starbucks, the first of the company's 8,000 U.S. stores to do so. Above, Starbucks employees wait for the results of a vote count, on December 9 in Buffalo. Eleonore Sens/AFP via Getty Images