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Feds accuse Starbucks of unfair labour practices in Buffalo

BUFFALO, NY (AP) – United States (US) Federal labour officials filed a sweeping complaint on Friday accusing Starbucks of unfair labour practices at its stores in Buffalo, New York, including retaliation against pro-union employees.

The US National Labour Relations Board’s NLRB Buffalo regional director outlined a host of labour law violations in a filing seeking reinstatement and backpay for the employees.

There’s been a wave of unionisation drives at Starbucks stores nationwide, with the first union votes coming in December at three stores in Buffalo.

The coffee chain called the allegations “false” and vowed to fight them at an upcoming hearing.

“Starbucks does not agree that the claims have merit, and the complaint’s issuance does not constitute a finding by the NLRB,” spokesman Reggie Borges wrote in an email. “It is the beginning of a litigation process that permits both sides to be heard and to present evidence.”

A barista at the Buffalo Starbucks location, helps out the local Starbucks Workers United as they gather at a local union hall to cast votes to unionise or not. PHOTO: AP

Starbucks Workers United, the group behind the unionisation effort, said the complaint “confirms the extent and depravity of Starbucks’ conduct in Western New York for the better part of a year”.

“Starbucks is finally being held accountable for the union-busting rampage they went on,” a fired shift supervisor Danny Rojas, said in a statement. “Starbucks needs to understand that it is morally corrupt to retaliate against union leaders, and I am looking forward to the NLRB forcing Starbucks to make this moment right.”

Last month, federal labour officials asked a judge to force Starbucks to reinstate three union activists at its Phoenix location, alleging the coffee giant engaged in unfair labour practices.

As of this week, workers at more than 250 US stores have filed petitions with the labour board to hold union elections, labour organisers said.

At least 50 of those stores have voted to unionise with Workers United, a branch of the Service Employees International Union. Starbucks reported on Tuesday that its sales climbed to record levels in its fiscal second quarter but noted it faced higher employment costs, which set to grow even higher in the coming months as the company introduces new pay raises and other benefits.

However, workers who have voted to unionise or stores that have petitioned to hold a union election won’t be eligible for those additional wage hikes and benefits.

Starbucks Workers United has said it filed charges with the labour board against Starbucks on Tuesday. The group alleges the company is violating labour law by threatening to exclude unionised stores from receiving the new benefits.