Starbucks accused of using ‘overwhelming psychological force’ against workers at a Buffalo store who considered trying to unionize

  • A labor group accused Starbucks of using a “shock and awe” campaign to intimidate workers against unionizing.
  • Employees were subjected to “overwhelming psychological force” hurting their morale, the union said. 
  • Starbucks employees voted to form a union in one Buffalo store last week in a first for the coffee chain.

Dozens of managers at a Starbucks location in Buffalo used intimidation tactics and created an atmosphere of fear that led to employees failing to unionize, labor group Workers United said.

Employees at the Camp Road location in Buffalo “were subjected to a massive campaign of overwhelming psychological force from the moment they publicly expressed the desire to form a union,” the group wrote in a statement Thursday to the National Labor Relations Board.

“Every medium of attack was used, including one-on-one conversations, group meetings, constant surveillance, and a propaganda extravaganza about the dire consequences a union would bring to Starbucks,” it added.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider about Workers United’s statement.

Last week, Starbucks employees at another store in the same area voted “yes” to form a union in a first for the coffee giant’s company-owned stores across the US.

The unionization vote failed to pass at a second location, where the union filed Thursday’s complaints, by a vote of 12 to eight, but the union’s lawyer said some votes had gone uncounted. Employees at the store were subjected to a “shock and awe” campaign, affecting their morale and likelihood of voting, the union said.

At the third location, the NLRB is awaiting the outcome of voter eligibility challenges. But yes votes at this location were leading 15 to nine. The union has filed an identical complaint for this store.

Starbucks maintains that its workers don’t need a union.

“While Starbucks respects the free choice of our partners, we firmly believe that our work environment, coupled with our outstanding compensation and benefits, makes unions unnecessary at Starbucks,” a spokesperson previously told Insider. “We respect our partners’ right to organize but believe that they would not find it necessary given our pro-partner environment.” 

Workers United is trying to reverse the unsuccessful vote to expand its presence across Starbucks stores in the US after last week’s win at the first store. Workers at the stores first announced their intentions to unionize in August, for reasons including understaffing at work and long waits making customers unhappy during the pandemic.

The NLRB has the right to make the election results void in response to the manner of how it was conducted, which may have influenced workers in making their choice about unionizing. 

If the union wins in one or more elections, Starbucks will be legally mandated to collectively bargain with workers for changes.