Starbucks Union filed an NLRB complaint, citing CEO Schultz’s benefit comments

The union, which represents Starbucks baristas, is targeting the coffee giant’s interim CEO, Howard Schultz, claiming his latest comments on an improved benefits plan were illegal threats and had a “cooling effect” on upcoming union votes.

The union, Starbucks Workers United, claims in an application to the National Labor Relations Board on April 22 that Starbucks, through Schultz’s comments, violated the National Labor Relations Act and asks the agency to issue a complaint in favor of the union.

Schultz told U.S. store managers last month that the company was reviewing the coffee chain’s benefits program, but that the new benefits could not legally be extended to stores that have voted to be affiliated without separately negotiated contracts for unionized workers. One of Schultz’s first steps as a recurring CEO was to suspend the company’s stock buyback program to invest in benefits for the workers.

Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the annual shareholders’ meeting in Seattle, Washington on March 22, 2017.

Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images

In a letter from Starbucks Workers United’s adviser to NLRB, obtained by CNBC, the union claims Schultz’s comments “threaten to withhold” the benefits had an “immediate and profound cooling effect on organizing campaigns across the country.”

It offers workers to testify that Starbucks baristas read about the comments in media reports shortly before the vote, and some withdrew support “last minute” as a result, costing a union victory somewhere in Virginia.

The letter also claims that the comments have been “parroted” by store managers and district managers, which has disrupted efforts to organize or have had a coercive effect.

Starbucks defended Schultz’s comments, saying it would be necessary to respect the bargaining process in order to extend new benefits to union workers.

“This is not a matter of Howard’s choice or opinion; this is the law. Any new benefit can not be unilaterally given to stores that voted to organize during collective bargaining. Howard remains focused on moving quickly to build the future of Starbucks with partners, side by side, “Starbucks spokeswoman Reggie Borges said in a statement to CNBC.

Starbucks Workers United has filed more than 80 lawsuits against the company for allegedly violating federal labor laws, and most recently the NLRB obtained a motion for injunction and immediate re-employment of three Starbucks workers who were fired after seeking to organize.

Starbucks also filed its first charges against the union last month, claiming it intimidated partners and violated federal labor laws.

Starbucks Workers United’s statement to CNBC that Schultz’s comments about the performance review are “just another desperate attempt to prevent Starbucks partners from exercising our right to have a union and the right to collective bargaining.”

“This is an extension of other threats made by Howard Schultz and their management team. Hopefully, at some point, Howard recognizes that you can not have a ‘progressive company’ and be the poster child for union abolition,” the union said.

So far, more than 200 cafes nationwide have asked the NLRB to vote on union with Starbucks Workers United, and over 40 have voted for organization.

Starbucks has maintained its position that its relationship with partners is best served without a union.

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