By MALLORY GRUBEN
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says Starbucks violated federal labor law when it closed 23 stores in 2022, including three locations in Portland and seven in Seattle.
At the time, Starbucks executives cited high crime rates and safety concerns as their reason for closing the stores. But members of Starbucks Workers United, the union that now represents more than 9,000 baristas across the country, suspected their real intent was to discourage workers from unionizing. Eight of the stores that closed were unionized, including the Broadway and Denny store in Seattle, where barista Rachel Ybarra had worked for almost two years. Baristas at the store dealt with theft, customers who used drugs, and other “uncomfortable” situations, but Ybarra never felt unsafe at work. And the workers at the store had approached their managers with ideas for addressing those situations without having to close the store, such as hiring a social worker who was trained to handle mental health crises. Starbucks closed the store exactly one month after workers went on strike for “Red Cup Day.”
“Some of those stores (that closed) were genuinely high incident,” Ybarra said. “But several of the stores they shut down did not fit that description, and they were able to use the guise of safety to shut them down.”
Ybarra was transferred to a non-union store. There, coworkers said they weren’t interested in unionizing because they didn’t want Starbucks to close their store, too.
“It was very, very explicit,” Ybarra said.
In a complaint filed Dec. 13, NLRB Regional Director Ronald Hooks concluded that Starbucks closed the stores either in response to union activity, or to discourage more workers from unionizing. At some of the union stores, Starbucks didn’t give Workers United proper notice or a chance to bargain over the closures, as required by law.
The NLRB will ask a federal administrative law judge to order Starbucks to reopen the stores, rehire the workers who had been at those stores, and pay workers for lost wages due to their closures. A hearing on the NLRB complaint is set for Aug. 20, 2024.
Starbucks and the union could reach a settlement before that hearing, though it seems unlikely. In press statements, Starbucks says it “firmly believes that the allegations lack merit” and will defend its “lawful business decisions” at the hearing.
Ybarra will be at the hearing, too, rooting for the union.
“I have friends who have been waiting for this case even long than I have, and I’ve been waiting a f—— year, so this has been a long time coming,” Ybarra said. “We’ve already requested the time off for that hearing. We will be there, and we will be watching the whole thing.”
The Portland stores that Starbucks closed:
- Kearney Plaza, 1102 NW Lovejoy St. (union)
- Gateway, 10112 NE Halsey St. (non-union)
- Fourth and Morrison, 401 SW Morrison St. (non-union)