A National Labor Relations Board official dismissed a petition to oust the union at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Manhattan after the NLRB regional director cited unfair labor practice charges against the company from workers at the cafe.

The Roastery workers who had acted to purge the union from their Chelsea location are represented pro bono by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a longtime adversary of organized labor that focuses on helping workers to opt out of unions.

In a seven-page decision based on precedent, NLRB regional director John D. Doyle Jr. concluded that a litany of unfair labor practices filed by Roastery cafe workers against Starbucks, including the company’s refusal to bargain with the union, were enough to toss the decertification petition, which the National Right to Work filed on behalf of worker Kevin Caesar on May 10.

In other words, Starbucks Workers United will continue to represent all workers at the Roastery.

The NLRB has substantiated a litany of complaints that the company illegally refused to bargain in good faith and retaliated against union organizers across the country in the past 18 months. 

The Roastery was among the Starbucks locations included in a recent nationwide complaint by Starbucks Workers United over what the NLRB has confirmed is the company’s refusal to bargain. 

The baristas, bakers and bartenders at the Roastery became the first New York City employees in the chain to unionize when they voted to join the nationwide Starbucks Workers United on April 1, 2022.

Starbucks Workers United NY/NJ spokesperson Leanne Tory-Murphy cheered the board’s decision in a statement that described Starbucks as “one of the worst violators of labor law in U.S. history.”

“We applaud the National Labor Relations Board for their decision to dismiss the effort to remove the union from the NYC Roastery,” Tory-Murphy said. “Until Starbucks commits to bargain in good faith with their employees to establish a first contract, discontent among workers is rightfully attributed to the actions of the company itself.”

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, suggested the group will challenge the board’s decision. Doyle set an Aug. 8 deadline for appeals. 

“The Regional Director’s decision is disappointing and we believe wrong under the law, but fortunately it isn’t the final say,” Semmens said. “These workers simply want a vote, and it is shameful that this decision so callously brushes off their statutory right to hold a decertification election, just to empower union officials that a majority of the rank-and-file workers clearly oppose.”

Right to Work spokesperson Kaela Thompson declined to say how many Roastery cafe workers signed on to the decertification petition, citing confidentiality.

Brewing Battle

Petitions to decertify can be filed no sooner than one year after a union’s certification, and at least 30% of workers must sign in support of the move when there is no collective bargaining agreement in place, according to NLRB rules. The union is dissolved if a majority of workers ultimately vote against representation.

A decertification petition may also be dismissed based on meritorious unfair labor practice charges. At the Roastery, the union has filed several complaints against Starbucks alleging that the company refuses to bargain with the union, has delayed and not acknowledged the union’s bargaining demands, and has not provided bargaining dates.

That was key to the union’s challenge to the decertification petition. The union’s lawyers argued in legal filings before the NLRB that the “violations allegedly committed by the Employer in the above cases undoubtedly caused the disaffection underlying the decertification petition and requires its dismissal,” Doyle wrote.

National Right to Work’s lawyers argued that the complaints cited by the union were filed against Starbucks, not Roastery management, and therefore should not have been considered.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a longtime foe of organized labor. An organization staff attorney argued the case leading to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 “Janus” decision, which held that government workers do not have to pay union dues, overturning decades of precedent. 

NLRB officials also dismissed decertification petitions filed by workers at Starbucks cafes in Buffalo, the first in the country to unionize, and Rochester in June. While National Right to Work was not behind the Buffalo workers’ petition, it later joined in representing them before the NLRB, and the group is also assisting in Starbucks union decertification petitions in Minnesota and Pittsburgh.

Caesar, the worker who filed the decertification petition in Manhattan, said in a statement that he and his fellow workers “believe that the union is looking out for itself more than it is looking out for Starbucks partners, who do not want forced dues and who can advocate for ourselves.”

Employees at the upscale Meatpacking District store — which boasts $17 cold brews — gained visibility last fall with a seven-week strike that resulted in an agreement from the company to regularly clean and sanitize their cafe and equipment, after state health inspectors substantiated workers’ complaints of mold and pests

State food safety inspectors found “serious” and “insanitary deficiencies” that included mold and moths, prompting an agreement from the company to address the issues.

Starbucks’ corporate management vowed to thoroughly clean the ice machines every week, not only at the Chelsea location but at all flagship Roastery stores nationwide. 

The store is the tenth Starbucks nationally, and the first of the company’s flagship Roasteries, to join the union that now claims 340 member shops.