Collegetown Starbucks, once a loved destination for many Cornellians seeking a social hub and caffeinated beverage, closed permanently on June 10 after maintaining a strong foothold for more than 15 years. Starbucks Workers United almost immediately filed a complaint against the corporation, alleging the Starbucks of unlawfully closing its Collegetown location in retaliation without discussing the decision to close.
On Nov. 1, Region 3 of the National Labor Relations Board considered these allegations against Starbucks and decided to proceed with the case.
“This is not a final ruling by the NLRB, but rather the first step in prosecuting the case,” wrote Michael Dolce, partner at Hayes Dolce, representing SBWU in an email to The Sun. “The Union does fully expect that the General Counsel’s office will prevail on both allegations.”
Prof. Desiree LeClercq, employment and labor law, explained the role of the NLRB with respect to the conflict between Starbucks and its union in an email to the Sun.
“The NLRB is the executive agency mandated to enforce the NLRA. It does not mediate conflicts,” LeClerq wrote. “Rather, it adjudicates complaints brought by the NLRB General Counsel alleging that either businesses or unions have violated provisions of the NLRA.”
This recent development with the NLRB signals a potential reopening of the Collegetown location, according to legal experts.
“The burden then shifts to the employer to prove non-discriminatory business/economic justifications for its closure,” LeClerq wrote. “Where the employer has failed to satisfy its burden of proof, the courts and the Board have ordered the employers to ‘restore the status quo ante’ meaning in this case order Starbucks to reopen and restore its business operations in Collegetown.”
According to Dolce, Starbucks has prepared for legal battles with one of the nations’ largest labor and employment litigation firms, Littler Mendelson, to combat the unionization efforts that began in Buffalo and spread to Ithaca.
To do so, Dolce also noted that Starbucks implementing several alleged anti-union strategies, engaging in a “variation of the usual Littler playbook,” by beginning with “nice” violations (i.e., promising and granting benefits, soliciting employee grievances), then turning to more aggressive, retaliatory violations like threats, terminations and store closures once the early counter campaign is not effective.
Students voiced excitement about the news of Starbucks potentially reopening right back into the heart of Collegetown. Collegetown Starbucks served as not only a place where Cornellians shared drinks, but also as a gathering place to chat, study and enjoy according to students.
“As a student… I enjoyed going there and being able to get out every morning in my apartment and stop by Starbucks on my way to class,” said Evan Sunshine ’24, who previously worked at the location. “I am going to really enjoy doing that again if it reopens.”
Labor and employment law experts and scholars applauded NLRB Region 13’s decisive actions towards the Ithaca Starbucks situation.
“I applaud the NLRB for issuing a sweeping complaint against Starbucks alleging that it has committed multiple unfair labor practices, including the closing of the Collegetown store, a location considered by its employees to be the business and most profitable in Ithaca,” wrote Mark Gaston Pearce, former chairman of NLRB who was appointed by Pres. Barack Obama, in an email to The Sun.
Pearce explained that if the case pertaining to the union and Starbucks is not settled, it will be litigated before an administrative law judge. Pearce believes, however, that the Collegetown location reopening is a strong possibility.
“The remedy of ordering an employer to reopen a business is rare, but not unheard of. It is an appropriate remedy in matters such as these” Pearce wrote. “While an employer has the right to go out of business rather than deal with a unionized workforce, it does not have the right to engage in a diversion of business to its other locations in order to either avoid a union or intimidate and discourage employees from seeking to unionize.”