BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A group of pro-union Starbucks workers in the Buffalo area filed labor charges Thursday against the coffeehouse giant for allegedly interfering with its organizing effort.
Workers at a news conference this afternoon said that after they announced the union campaign in August, Starbucks flooded the Buffalo market with executives and out-of-town managers in an attempt to thwart the union drive.
“They have come in with extreme force,” said Michelle Eisen, who works at the Elmwood Village store in Buffalo.
“They’ve infiltrated our stores, they’ve posted people in our stores, they’ve completely disrupted our scheduling, they’ve closed stores down. It’s been difficult to exist within our environment – an environment that we like to be in with people we enjoy working with – and it doesn’t show any signs of letting up.”
Eisen said that by filing the charges with the National Labor Relations Board, they hoped that Starbucks officials begin to back off.
Workers United Upstate NY, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union, is the union helping the workers organize at three Buffalo-area stores. Before the news conference, an organizer handed out a statement from a former chairwoman of the NLRB, who said “what Starbucks is doing is extraordinary.”
“Employers are not allowed to tamper with the ‘laboratory conditions’ for a fair election during a union campaign,” said Wilma Liebman, the former NLRB chairwoman. “From all appearances, this employer is doing just that, arrogantly defying basic labor law principles in an effort to kill the unionization effort, without regard for the consequences.”
Starbucks denied the allegations in an emailed statement, saying it has followed all laws and guidelines. In addition, Starbucks has said it is not uncommon for company executives and managers to visit markets after workers complain about store conditions, which is the case in Buffalo.
“The intent is certainly not to intimidate,” said Reggie Borges, a spokesman for Starbucks. “And from what I have seen firsthand, that’s not how I would describe it and I would categorically deny any suggestion that we’re out there trying to intimidate partners or that we’re trying to union bust.”
The Starbucks employees at today’s news conference painted a different picture of the company.
Alexis Rizzo, a Starbucks employee, said she has always been proud to work for the company because its values align with her own. But that has not been the case since the union drive began in late August.
“I have never felt ashamed of my company before but I do now because this union-busting campaign that they’ve launched here and the interference that they have inserted into our campaign does not align with the missions and values that our company has set into place,” Rizzo said.
After a favorable NLRB decision last week that allowed workers at the three Starbucks stores to move forward with voting as individual stores, the ballots are expected to be mailed out next week.
Both sides should know the tally before Christmas.
If successful, they would be the first of Starbucks nearly 9,000 company-operated stores in the United States to be represented by a union.
Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here.