Starbucks was found guilty of violating U.S. labor laws in its treatment of employees across unionized Ithaca locations and in the permanent closure of Collegetown Starbucks in a National Labor Relations Board ruling on Thursday, July 6. Judge Arthur J. Amchan’s ruling comes after more than a year of local disputes over workers’ conditions.
Amchan wrote in his decision that Starbucks violated the National Labor Relations Act several times by dismissing and punishing employees and by more harshly enforcing company policies after the company knew of unionization efforts in its Ithaca stores.
He also described that the company showed anti-union bias by cutting operating hours at stores, telling employees that the Collegetown location would permanently close before an official decision was made and failing to negotiate with Starbucks Workers United — the union representing Ithaca’s Starbucks employees.
“Starbucks violates the Act when it prioritizes bringing stores up to standards through employee discipline in response to union organizing,” Amchan wrote. “There is no showing herein that Starbucks would have paid the attention it did to the Ithaca stores and its employees absent its awareness of union organizing.”
Amchan emphasized the wider effect of the treatment of Ithaca employees on Starbucks workers nationwide.
“Given the wide-spread publicity given to union organizing at Starbucks stores and Starbucks’ response, employees at the 9,000+ Starbucks can only assume that they are risking their livelihood by organizing when they learn that Starbucks closed a store like College Avenue and got rid of almost all its employees either before or after the store closed,” Amchan wrote.
As part of his ruling, Amchan required Starbucks to reopen the College Avenue location and reinstate terminated employees with payback. The corporation would also have to remove any reference to the unlawful dismissal and penalties given to eleven former employees from their files.
Starbucks also would be required to agree to bargaining agreements with Starbucks Workers United regarding the Ithaca locations. He also ordered Starbucks to post a notice about working rights in all locations nationwide in addition to distributing the information electronically.
Starbucks told Bloomberg on Thursday that the company intends to appeal the decision.
“Where claims have been filed against Starbucks that we believe are unfounded, we continue to defend the company and the rights of our partners as matters are fully adjudicated by the NLRB and federal courts,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in an email to The Sun. “We strongly disagree with the administrative law judge’s recommendations issued and intend to file exceptions contesting the findings and recommendations made.”
Starbucks’ statement also stated that the company’s policies are set to facilitate a hospitable and safe atmosphere for partners and customers and to outlaw anti-unionization practices. According to the statement, Starbucks established a management training program and instituted a labor relations team in the fall to support the company’s compliance with both company policies and labor laws.
“We respect the right of all partners to make their own decisions about union representation, and we are committed to engaging in good faith collective bargaining for each store where a union has been appropriately certified following a representation election,” the statement said.
However, Starbucks is still facing over 90 claims of unfair labor practices across the country, making multiple headlines this year over their treatment of union leaders and controversial store shutdowns.
Some of the former workers at the Collegetown Starbucks welcomed the Labor Board’s decision as a sign of hope for resolving the dispute between the corporation and workers.
Evan Sunshine ’24, a former employee at the location and a partner organizer for Starbucks Workers United, hopes that the other two Ithaca locations that were closed this spring will reopen as well. Sunshine is one of the employees who alleged Starbucks retaliation in the case and is described as a leader of the internal unionization efforts and one of the earliest open supporters of unionization among Ithaca employees in case documents.
“This decision comes as no surprise to me. Starbucks knew that what it did was illegal, and decided to go forth with the closure and firings anyway to punish us workers for speaking our minds and taking steps to make our voices heard,” Sunshine said in a statement to The Sun. “This victory makes us hopeful that the College Avenue store will reopen soon, and maybe even the Commons and Meadows store as well.”
Kolya Vitek is another former employee of the Collegetown location who alleged Starbucks discrimination in the case. In case documents, Vitek is described as a leader of organizational endeavors among Ithaca employees. In a statement to The Sun, Vitek noted the deceptive and unfair practices used by Starbucks in their time with the company.
“Starbucks caused undue suffering to me and my coworkers,” Vitek said. “When they illegally fired my friends, management would tell me that my friends ‘fired themselves.’ Now it’s official — they were fired in retaliation for our union organizing, and they will get their jobs back.”
In the statement, Vitek also noted that they and their coworkers are currently still reeling from losing their jobs due to the closure of the rest of the stores in Ithaca. After the Collegetown location closed, Vitek had been working at the E. Seneca Street Starbucks location.
“Starbucks went to extreme lengths to make an example out of us, to make baristas nationwide afraid to fight for what we deserve, but I am still hopeful,” Vitek said. “This ruling brings us a step closer to victory for all of us in the campaign, and I feel confident that the courts will rule similarly for the rest of the stores in Ithaca that were shut down.”
On April 8, 2022, all three Ithaca Starbucks locations voted to unionize, making the city the first to achieve unionization across all of their locations.
Subsequently, the Collegetown location was shut down on June 10, 2022, after more than 15 years of operation. According to case documents, over half of the Collegetown Starbucks employees were college students.
Starbucks Workers United quickly filed a complaint with the corporation, claiming that Starbucks unlawfully closed the store in retaliation to the store’s unionization.
On Nov. 1, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board decided to proceed with the case investigating the allegations against Starbucks.
In May, Starbucks also permanently closed the two remaining Ithaca locations — E. Seneca Street and S. Meadow Street. This prompted Starbucks Workers United to file an additional injunction in federal court to stop the closures and bring unfair labor charges against Starbucks with the NLRB.
The decision sparked reactions from both the employees and sympathizers, resulting in demonstrations around the Ithaca community and the University, with the two-day takeover of Day Hall demanding the termination of the University’s partnership with Starbucks.
The closures also prompted the Cornell Student Assembly to adopt Resolution 1: Starbucks Off Our Campus, which urged the University to terminate its relationship with Starbucks Coffee.