Protesters rally outside a Great Neck Starbucks in August against the...

Protesters rally outside a Great Neck Starbucks in August against the company's efforts to prevent workers from forming a labor union.

Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Workers at a Great Neck Starbucks who unanimously supported forming a labor union faced retaliation from management in return, including threats of pay cuts or termination, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the National Labor Relations Board.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday against the Starbuck's corporation and the Great Neck store, alleges the initial unanimous support for a union resulted in management threatening a wide range of disciplinary measures. The result: Workers felt in danger of either losing their jobs or having their benefits slashed and eventually voted against forming a union, the NLRB said.

“Specifically, there is reasonable cause to believe that [Starbucks] threatened … employees with the loss of opportunities for promotions if they selected the Union as their collective-bargaining representative; threatening employees with the loss of benefits, including tuition reimbursement, health insurance and access to managers to address workplace concerns,” the complaint states.

Starbucks corporate officials said they oppose unions, preferring to work with employees directly.

"We strongly disagree with the merits of today’s filing and look forward to sharing the facts and addressing inaccuracies as we work side-by-side with our partners to reinvent Starbucks for the future," the Seattle-based company said in a statement Wednesday.

Workers at Starbucks stores in Farmingville, Massapequa and Westbury agreed to form a labor union earlier this year.

At least 257 of the coffee giant's 9,000 stores have voted to unionize since late last year, according to the NLRB. Fifty-seven stores have voted down the union.

According to the lawsuit, Great Neck store employees said that Starbucks district manager Mario Leon and store manager Beth Daniells threatened to discipline them with loss of benefits and more strict enforcement of work rules if they formed the union.

The Starbucks employee who led the effort to unionize, Joselyn Chuquillanqui, had her hours reduced and was given a disciplinary warning in retaliation for her labor activities, according to the suit. In July, Chuquillanqui was fired, the NLRB said.

Workers were told "it would be futile for them to select the union … and that they would not be able to improve their wages, benefits and other working conditions if they chose to be represented by the Union; threatening to reduce employees’ wages by threatening employees with the loss of opportunities to work in Respondent’s other facilities beyond the Great Neck Store.”

In February, Workers United, representing the store employees, filed a petition with the NLRB that included 15 signed union cards, representing a unanimous show of interest, according to the complaint filed in U.S. Eastern District Court.

Labor officials said the store managers responded by interrogating employees in the backroom of the store about their union activities and sending threatening text messages that they may be fired if they chose to bargain with the union, according to the complaint. 

In May, the managers, promised wage increases and better working conditions if they rejected the union, according to the complaint. They also warned employees not to participate in union activities, the complaint states.

After that, the lawsuit alleges, the employees voted 6-5 against forming a union, with one ballot challenged, the NLRB said.

The lawsuit includes a list of demands from the NLRB to Starbucks, including rehiring Chuquillanqui and rescinding any prior discipline warnings.

It also calls on Starbucks to immediately "recognize and, upon request, bargain in good faith with the Union as the exclusive collective-bargaining representative of employees.”

In its statement, Starbucks said they "have "fully honored the process laid out by the National Labor Relations Board and have encouraged our partners to exercise their right to vote in union elections."

In May, the statement continued, "partners at our Great Neck store in New York made clear their decision to maintain a direct employment relationship with Starbucks." 

 

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