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Judge orders Starbucks to rehire, give back pay to fired Colorado union leader; Starbucks to appeal

Judge orders Starbucks to rehire, give backpay to fired Colorado union leader
Judge orders Starbucks to rehire, give backpay to fired Colorado union leader 03:01

After a federal administrative judge found a Colorado Starbucks worker was illegally fired for organizing a union, that judge ordered the coffee giant to not only rehire her, but issue back pay and write a letter of apology.

Barista Alendra 'Len' Harris says she feels validated by Judge Ira Sandron's ruling, which she says also backs up the hundreds of similar allegations from other Starbucks workers around the country who have unionized in an effort to get better pay and working conditions.

"There's a lot of feelings," Harris said. "I'm incredibly validated."

A federal administrative law judge ordered Starbucks to rehire fired Colorado barista and union organizer Alendra 'Len' Harris, ruling that her termination was unlawful. CBS

As of Tuesday, nearly 400 Starbucks stores are unionized -- up from 300 over the summer -- yet none of them have a contract.

RELATED: Westminster Starbucks votes to unionize as labor board rules in favor of another Colorado Starbucks union leader

CBS News Colorado met with one Starbucks barista who led the charge at her store to become the first unionized Starbucks in Colorado.

The Starbucks in Superior first voted to unionize back in April 2022 but it was Harris, who first pushed this location into unionizing. Harris became the victim of unlawful termination, an administrative judge recently ruled.

A federal administrative judge of the National Labor Relations Board -- which oversees union elections, allegations of worker intimidation and other labor issues -- ruled last week that Starbucks unlawfully terminated Harris back in November 2022. 

"It really hits different when a legal document tells you you were treated unjustly," Harris said.

Shortly after successfully unionizing for better pay and working conditions in early 2022, a temporary manager at the Superior location started firing workers, according to Harris.

RELATED: Starbucks location in Superior unionizes

"She warned us an anti-union manager is gonna come in here, they're going to drop the axe, they're going to start really firing you for small infractions or things you didn't know about, and low and behold, after a month of working with her, that's exactly what she started doing," Harris said. "She started firing people for being a minute or two late, started firing people for dress code infractions."

In the fall of 2022, Harris was notified she allegedly mishandled counting the store's safe, then received a final notice, despite not having any prior infractions during her employment.

Harris was later accused of leaving the door unlocked and cash unattended.

"I was her main target," Harris said, of the temporary manager.

Fired Colorado Starbucks barista and union organizer Alendra 'Len' Harris, right, talks to CBS News Colorado reporter Gabriela Vidal, left, about a recent federal administrative judge's ruling, which said Harris was unlawfully fired for her role organizing a union. CBS

Harris was fired one month later, the day after she and other workers at the store joined a nationwide strike for contract negotiations.

"I went to the National Labor Relations Board in Denver and I brought my concerns to them, and said, 'hey, I was just fired from the company, this company, I was engaged in organizing a union, and I'm pretty positive they fired me for union organizing,'" Harris said.

After a six-month-long investigation found Harris was unlawfully fired for union organizing, Starbucks fought back in court, losing to Harris.

"This is just one incident among many, many, many incidents of the company being actually held accountable, or at least legally liable, for their wrongdoings," Harris said.

Harris hopes to return to work at this location, however, Starbucks said it intends to appeal the case and denied allegations of retaliation for union organizing.

"We firmly disagree with the administrative law judge's recommendations and intend to file exceptions -- or an appeal -- in this matter," said Starbucks spokesman Andrew Trull. "The record demonstrates that Harris was separated following progressive discipline for violations of established safety, security and cash-handling policies, not in retaliation for their participation in, or support of, any concerted union activities."

Starbucks also commissioned and paid for an outside company, Thomas M. Mackall LLC, which the company says vindicates them. That report said its authors found no evidence of an "anti-union playbook" at Starbucks, but also said it's clear that the company prefers its stores not unionize. The company provided that report to CBS News Colorado and also has it posted on its website.

And while NLRB and federal administrative law judges' findings and rulings aren't final, they have found through several investigations and inquiries that Starbucks has violated its workers' rights hundreds of times.

RELATED: Starbucks violated workers' rights "hundreds of times," labor judge says

Workers around the country have made considerable gains through unionization and bargaining efforts in 2023.

To name just a few, part-time UPS drivers got a 55% raise, airline pilots received a 40% raise and United Auto Workers landed a 25% raise plus cost of living adjustments.

The wins were widespread from Hollywood writers and actors to nurses and teachers.

Back in Superior, Starbucks was ordered by the administrative judge to rehire Harris at the same position and payscale, issue back pay and cease any anti-union activity.

Regardless of how her case proceeds, however, Harris hopes this sends a message to other employees -- unionized or not -- to continue pushing for workers' rights in the workplace. 

"My win says really clearly that, yes, it may take a while," Harris said. "But you can and will win, and we can do it together and it's worth it in the end."

You can read the judge's full 31-page ruling here:

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