US: Workers score big victory against Starbucks at Labour Board

New York, NY - The Industrial Workers of the World Starbucks Workers Union won a watershed victory yesterday...

Submitted by libcom on March 9, 2006 the first National Labour Relations Board conflict over unfair labour practices between the world's largest coffee chain and the baristas who work there.

Faced with the prospect of having its widespread union-busting campaign exposed in a public hearing, Starbucks agreed to remedy all of the myriad violations committed against workers who have organised a union.

"We hope Starbucks' decision to settle reflects a strategic assessment to cease what has been a relentless anti-union campaign and accept the right of baristas to gain a voice on the job by joining together," said Laura De Anda, one of the union members that prevailed in the proceedings. "The IWW Starbucks Workers Union is here to stay."

Some highlights of the National Labour Relations Board settlement with Starbucks include:
· The reinstatement of IWW members, Sarah Bender and Anthony Polanco, who had been discharged for their union activity in order to discourage other workers from making a free and fair choice about whether to join the union.
· The invalidation of Starbucks' national policy that prohibited the sharing of written union information and joining the union on company property.
· The invalidation of Starbucks' national no-pin policy. Workers had been banned from wearing IWW pins and had been sent home from work without pay for refusing to take them off.
· An agreement by Starbucks to end threats, bribes, and surveillance of union members.
· What would have been a relatively hefty backpay award against Starbucks was reduced because the IWW assisted its discharged members in obtaining other employment which mitigates damages under the National Labour Relations Act. Still, the company will pay out almost $2,000.
· And much more. To view the settlement agreement check out

The union was represented by its General Counsel, Stuart Lichten, of Schwartz, Lichten & Bright. The NLRB attorneys on the case were Audrey Eveillard and Burt Pearlstone.

"I'm pleased that Starbucks' blatant violation of the law has been remedied in my case," said reinstated barista Sarah Bender. "And now I'm just eager to get back to work to continue the organising drive and chalk up more gains in wages and security of hours with the Starbucks Workers Union."

"All I have to say to Starbucks is: I'm back," added discharged barista, Anthony Polanco.

"The long-standing right to proudly display our union pins has finally been reaffirmed," said Pete Montalbano, an IWW barista whose disciplinary record was expunged by the settlement and who received compensation for being wrongfully kicked out of work. "This is an important visual expression of solidarity for co-workers and customers alike."

The NLRB complaint against Starbucks which resulted in this settlement outlined a widespread anti-union effort that extended to upper level management, including a Starbucks Senior Vice President. Fifteen Starbucks employees were named in the complaint.

The IWW Starbucks Workers Union is a grassroots organisation of Starbucks employees united to improve life on and off the job. The campaign to organise Starbucks is based on the solidarity unionism model, unionism in its purest form: a group of workers directly pressuring a corporation without getting entangled in the cumbersome government certification process or the alienating business-union approach. Since its founding in May 2004, the Starbucks Workers Union has chalked up three wage increases, more secure work hours, and some modest safety improvements in the area of repetitive strain injuries. Union members also work together to remedy individual grievances such as fixing errors in pay and eliminating exhausting scheduling demands.

"Though we would have preferred to vindicate our rights in an open hearing, winning a remedy for all of our well-documented charges against Starbucks is certainly gratifying," said Daniel Gross, an IWW organiser and Starbucks barista whose 'final warning before termination' was nullified by the settlement. "It's critical to point out that while the conclusion of this battle took place in a legal setting, the fight was won in the streets and through actions on the job. The union couldn't have done it without grassroots solidarity from around the world from places as far off as Edinburgh, Scotland and Auckland, New Zealand to places as close to home as New Brunswick, New Jersey and the streets of Manhattan."

The Labour Board's standard practice is to settle complaints without the charged party, Starbucks in this case, admitting guilt. Because of this, as a symbolic matter, the IWW refused to sign on to the settlement. The IWW believes there was ample evidence to conclude that Starbucks was guilty of breaking the law. Nonetheless, the settlement stands as is with the all of the union's charges resolved.

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