The nationwide battle between Starbucks and employees looking to unionize played out Monday night outside a Great Neck store where protesters demanded the coffee giant rehire a fired worker and labor organizer.
The rally at the store on 6 Great Neck Rd. drew nearly 100 people and took place hours after Starbucks asked the National Labor Relations Board to temporarily suspend all union elections at its U.S. stores, citing allegations from a board employee that regional NLRB officials improperly coordinated with union organizers.
Starbucks and union organizers nationwide have been in an extended fight, with both sides issuing accusations of illegal, improper or unfair practices.
In Great Neck, Starbucks workers and local allies rallied Monday night to demand the reinstatement of a fired union leader, Joselyn Chuquillanqui.
Late last month, Chuquillanqui, 28, a former shift supervisor at the Great Neck Road store, said she was terminated over tardiness complaints. She has said those complaints were excessive and an excuse for management to fire her. A Starbucks spokesperson responded: "A partner’s interest in a union does not exempt them from the standards we have always held." The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint over Chuquillanqui’s termination last month, a Workers United spokeswoman said.
Chuquillanqui, of Elmont, wearing a “Starbucks Workers United” T-shirt, said Monday night she hopes “people will support us at these rallies.”
“I should be reinstated, and I should get my job back,” she said at the rally outside the Starbucks at The Gardens At Great Neck Plaza shopping center. “We all deserved to have rights.”
Starbucks Workers United, the group seeking to unionize U.S. Starbucks stores, has accused the company of trying to “distract attention away from their unprecedented anti-union campaign, including firing over 75 union leaders across the country, while simultaneously trying to halt all union elections.”
The vote at the Great Neck store in May went 6-5 against the union, which has challenged the results with the NLRB, alleging that management at the store engaged in unfair labor practices.
Workers at Starbucks stores in Massapequa, Westbury, and Farmingville have unionized this year.
Kurt Kronemberg, 62, of Bay Shore, came to the Great Neck rally because he’s “always for the people” and “the underdog.”
A retired truck driver, Kronemberg said Chuquillanqui has the “right to unionize.”
“These big corporations profit like who knows what,” he said.
Others at the rally walked to the front door of the Starbucks and chanted “Rehire Joselyn” and “No union, no coffee.”
Starbuck's latest challenge to the unionizing drive focuses on allegations by an unnamed career NLRB employee. According to Starbucks, that employee informed the company about activity that happened in the board's St. Louis office in the spring while it was overseeing a union election at a Starbucks in Overland Park, Kansas.
The store is one of 314 U.S. Starbucks locations where workers have petitioned the NLRB to hold union elections since late last year. More than 220 of those stores have voted to unionize.
The Seattle-based chain alleges that St. Louis labor board officials made special arrangements for pro-union workers to vote in person at its office when they did not receive mail-in ballots, even though Starbucks and the union had agreed that store elections would be handled by mail-in ballot.
In its letter, Starbucks referred to memos the regional office sent confirming that workers were allowed to come to the office and vote in person after the union told the regional office that some workers had not received ballots in the mail. The memos, citing “board protocol," said the workers voted alone in an empty office, according to Starbucks.
“Because observers were not present, no one can be sure who appeared to vote, whether NLRB personnel had inappropriate communications with the voters, told them how to vote, showed them how to vote or engaged in other undisclosed conduct," Starbucks wrote in its letter.
Starbucks said regional board officials also disclosed confidential information to the union, including which workers' ballots had arrived in the mail to be counted.
A statement from the union countered: "Ultimately, this is Starbucks’ latest attempt to manipulate the legal process for their own means and prevent workers from exercising their fundamental right to organize,” the group said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the NLRB said Monday the agency doesn't comment on open cases.
Press secretary Kayla Blado said the NLRB will “carefully and objectively” consider any challenges that Starbucks raises through “established channels.”
Workers at the Overland Park store voted 6-1 to unionize, but seven additional ballots were the subject of challenges from Starbucks or the union.
A hearing on those challenges was scheduled for Tuesday. Starbucks asked for that hearing to be delayed, but as of Monday afternoon, the board had not postponed it.
In its letter, Starbucks said the evidence in this case indicates misconduct in other regions as well.
Starbucks Workers United has filed 284 unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB against Starbucks or one of its operators, according to the labor board. Starbucks has filed two charges against Workers United.