The NLRB general counsel's recent complaint against Starbucks involving its interim CEO Howard Schultz is part of her strategy to make an example out of a brand name company when prosecuting labor law violations and seeking expanded remedies, union- and management-side attorneys told Law360.
"The union contract will not even come close to what Starbucks offers," Schultz allegedly said during a May 3 earnings call.
Schultz's statement is one of many he's made about the nationwide unionization effort with Workers United that National Labor Relations Board prosecutors referenced in their complaint last week against the company. NLRB attorneys have filed over 20 complaints against Starbucks over the union's allegations of unlawful conduct.
The SEIU-affiliated union has garnered more than 200 wins and organized more than 325 shops since the union began filing representation election petitions in August 2021, according to Law360's Starbucks Unionization Tracker.
General counsel Jennifer Abruzzo alleged that Schultz's comments threatened unionized workers, and she asked for the company's top official to read a notice to workers about their rights that would be shared in a video. Board attorneys also requested that the company apologize to workers in letters.
Schultz, who is serving as interim CEO until the first fiscal quarter of next year, "promised increased wages and benefits at U.S. stores if its employees rejected the union" during the May call, according to the complaint.
By requesting the notice reading and the expanded relief, NLRB attorneys are using Starbucks to send a message to other employers that they will face similar remedies in complaints and settlements, management- and union-side attorneys said. …
Steve Swirsky of Epstein Becker Green, who represents employers, said it isn't surprising that the general counsel is seeking these remedies for employers like Starbucks with brand recognition.
But NLRB prosecutors are also pushing the limit with remedies in cases where employers don't have an abundance of resources like Starbucks does, Swirsky said, and those companies may later be forced into unfavorable settlements.
Such accords would be those that "employers typically would not historically have agreed to settle on because either they don't have the means to fight, to litigate, or they don't have the ability to retain counsel who are really familiar in this area," he said. …
Swirsky and Hunter said Starbucks needs to present evidence showing that changes to wages and benefits were in the works before the company knew about the unionization effort.