The U.S. Labor Council is suing Starbucks over union demands for retaliation

Members respond during Starbucks union vote in Buffalo, New York, USA, December 9, 2021.

Lindsay DeDario | Reuters

U.S. officials are asking a federal court to force Starbucks to bring back activist workers they say were removed because of their union campaign, according to a filing Friday.

The Phoenix chief of the National Labor Relations Boards is seeking a ban on Starbucks that would require it to reinstate three employees who were allegedly illegally laid off, forced out or put on unpaid leave.

The application marks the latest in what is expected to be a protracted and costly legal battle between a union campaign and the global coffee chain.

Since August, more than 200 Starbucks locations have filed papers to become affiliated with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. So far, 24 stores have voted to organize, and only two locations have so far voted against.

But the tension has escalated between the two sides, with each accusing the other of crime. Workers United has filed dozens of its own complaints with the NLRB against Starbucks, alleging that the company has illegally retaliated against, harassed and fired organizers at cafes across the country. The government agency has also issued complaints against Starbucks.

For its part, Starbucks this week filed two complaints with the NLRB alleging that the union that organized its baristas violated federal labor law. Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Friday’s filing claims Starbucks retaliated against the three employees after learning that its employees were involved in pro-union activity. “Immediate injunction is needed to ensure that the employer does not benefit from nationwide illegal conduct,” NLRB Director Cornele Overstreet said in a statement.

– CNBC’s Amelia Lucas contributed to this report.

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