(Bloomberg) -- Starbucks Corp. illegally fired a Michigan employee because she engaged in union activism and participated in a US labor board proceeding, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled.
The agency judge’s decision Friday requires the coffee chain to offer the worker reinstatement with back pay. It says Starbucks must also hold a meeting with employees as well as representatives of management, the government and the union, at which a notice is read about workers’ rights and about the agency’s determination that the company broke the law.
Starbucks, which has said that claims of anti-union activity on its part are “categorically false,” didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has denied wrongdoing in the case.
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In the ruling, the agency judge wrote that the NLRB general counsel had demonstrated that Starbucks “acted with animus” when it fired the employee, who had helped build support for unionizing her Ann Arbor store.
Friday’s ruling is the first time a labor board judge has ruled that Starbucks broke the law in its ongoing struggle with Workers United, the labor group organizing at its stores across the country.
NLRB judge’s orders can be appealed to labor board members in Washington, D.C., and from there to federal court. The agency’s general counsel has issued dozens of pending complaints around the country accusing Starbucks of violating workers’ rights. The union, Starbucks Workers United, has filed labor board claims accusing the company of firing more than 80 employees because of their activism.
It has prevailed in elections at more than 240 of the chain’s roughly 9,000 corporate-owned US stores over the past year, following an initial landmark victory in Buffalo, New York, last December.
The fired employee, Hannah Whitbeck, urged Starbucks to heed the judge’s ruling and her co-workers’ vote to unionize at her store following her firing.
“I would hope that they learn their lesson, that firing people because they want to start a union is not going to solve their problems,” she said in an interview. “In fact it’s only going to make it worse.”
(Updates with employee comment in final paragraph)
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