The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is asking a federal court to issue Starbucks (SBUX) a "nationwide cease and desist order" over the firing of seven Starbucks employees in Buffalo, New York.
"We had a good deep breath that we could finally take because of it," Angel Krempa, a former Starbucks employee in Buffalo who alleged that she was fired for her involvement in union organizing, told Yahoo Finance. "It's exciting to see that the NLRB is taking action for us finally. And we're just hoping that this continues to move forward in the way that it should be."
Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesperson, reiterated to Yahoo Finance that "we believe these claims are false and will be prepared to defend our case." A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for July 11.
The NLRB injunction petition, filed last week in a U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, is the board's third filing for reinstatement of fired workers since December 2021, when a store in Buffalo became the coffee chain's first location to unionize. In total, 208 stores have voted on unionization, with 169 stores voting in favor and 28 stores voting against, according to NLRB figures as June 24.
Federal court injunctions give a temporary order to reinstate fired employees while their cases are being litigated at the NLRB or in an appeals court. The agency has also asked a U.S. court to issue an injunction to reinstate Starbucks employees in Memphis, Tenn., and Phoenix.
“Absent immediate interim relief, Starbucks will achieve its goal, through unlawful means, of irreparably harming the campaign in Buffalo, and sending a clear chilling message to its employees across the country,” NLRB Region 3-Buffalo Regional Director Linda M. Leslie stated. “We are asking the court to swiftly grant the injunction so that the unlawfully discharged workers can return to work and effectively exercise their right to engage in union activities, including collectively bargain a union contract.”
The petition asked that the court require Starbucks to "halt their efforts" at all of its U.S. stores. The filing detailed those actions as offering benefits to non-union stores, threatening reprisals for employees who support unionization, refusing to bargain with stores that have voted to unionize, and temporarily or permanently closing stores.
Starbucks has opposed the unionization effort since the beginning, arguing that the coffee giant works better when dealing directly with employees. The company has consistently rejected claims that it uses unlawful tactics to discourage workers from organizing.
'Very rare for the NLRB to go to federal court'
While it's not unusual for the NLRB to demand the reinstatement of fired workers, it is notable.
"It's very rare for the NLRB to go to federal court and ask it to intervene," Cathy Creighton, a union attorney and director of Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations branch in Buffalo, told Yahoo Finance. "It has to be pretty egregious behavior on the part of the employer that the NLRB would be going to federal court now in three different times to get a judge to say: 'Hang on, like cut it out on Starbucks.'"
The recent filing also holds a significance "because Buffalo is the heart of where all this started," Creighton added. "If it's allowed to go unchecked here, if the employers unfair labor practices are allowed to continue in this really flagrant way that has been, then that sends a rippling message across the United States."
Earlier this month, a federal judged ruled in favor of Starbucks in Phoenix, and the company did not have to reinstate or give accommodations to three employees who claim they were retaliated against for organizing a union.
Since the judge denied the Phoenix case, Creighton said, "there'll continue to be a trial on whether or not Starbucks terminated those employees illegally."
The Memphis case, which involves seven fired employees, is awaiting a ruling from a federal judge.
Krempa worked at a Starbucks location on Transit Road in Buffalo, which voted to unionize on March 23. She was fired on April 1.
"It's been extremely overwhelming," Krempa said, echoing the sentiment of other fired baristas. "I can't collect unemployment. I haven't been able to collect unemployment the past couple of months. I've been applied to 20 something of them so far and not one of them has called me back."
Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @daniromerotv