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Starbucks illegally blocked raises for union workers, labor board says

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Starbucks illegally withheld pay and benefits from thousands of unionized workers, the National Labor Relations Board alleged in a complaint filed Wednesday.

The NLRB is seeking back payments and benefits for baristas who have unionized in May and to require that interim CEO Howard Schultz read a statement to workers about their rights to organize. 

The coffee chain's blocking of incentives to union workers was meant to hinder efforts at organizing, alleges the NLRB, the federal agency in charge of enforcing U.S. labor laws. The complaint comes amid a union drive at Starbucks locations across the nation — a push that management has opposed, arguing the company runs better when dealing directly with its workers.

In an emailed response, a Starbucks spokesperson dismissed the NLRB's claims as false. 

In a July statement, the company had said that it is "committed to bargaining in good faith." It added, "The law is clear, once a store unionizes, no changes to benefits are allowed without good faith collective bargaining."

More than 230 of the coffee chain's locations have voted to unionize since late last year. 

Schultz in May announced pay raises and increased training hours at its more than 10,000 corporate-owned stores, but excluded recently unionized stores or those in the process of holding an election.

The pay increases, which took effect August 1, hiked hourly rates for nonunion workers hired before May 2 to either $15 an hour or by 3%, whichever was highest. Employees who have been with Starbucks at least two years received additional increases. 

"Howard Schultz made the decision to deprive us of a raise in a time where the cost of living is skyrocketing. He claims to run a 'different kind of company," yet in reality Howard Schultz is simply a billionaire bully who is doing everything he can to crush workers' rights," Maggie Carter, a barista from Knoxville, Tennessee, said Thursday in a statement on behalf of Starbucks Workers United.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, also called out Starbucks.

"Enough is enough. Howard Schultz, the billionaire CEO of Starbucks, must end his war against his employees, recognize the union and negotiate a first contract," the senator tweeted.

Unless Starbucks settles the case, an administrative law judge will hold a hearing on the issue on October 25. 

The NLRB's allegations against Starbucks are only the latest by the agency, which in June accused Starbucks of using an "array of illegal tactics" aimed at workers involved in unionization efforts. Starbucks has consistently rejected claims it uses unlawful tactics. 

In response to a lawsuit filed by an NLRB regional director, a federal judge last week ordered the company to reinstate seven employees who had been fired while leading a union campaign in Memphis, Tennessee. Starbucks said it fired the workers for violating its safety and security policies and vowed to appeal the ruling.

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