The National Labor Relations Board ruled last week Starbucks illegally fired a Chicago barista who wanted to unionize. NLRB administrative Judge Geoffrey Carter also ruled Starbucks violated labor law when managers threatened workers at two cafes.
Barista Jasper Booth-Hodges began discussing labor organizing with colleagues a year prior to his August 2022 termination. The firing occurred two months after employees at 1174 E. 55th Street in Hyde Park voted to unionize, according to the Tribune.
The judge also found that Starbucks illegally threatened employees last year in Hyde Park and at a now-shuttered cafe at 1070 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue in Edgewater. Managers used scare tactics and told workers a union campaign could end their benefits or close pathways to raises.
The Edgewater location, which unionized in May 2022, suddenly closed in late October, four days before workers were to begin contract bargaining. At the time, a Starbucks rep told reporters that the closure was due to unspecified safety concerns. Still, employees and organizers from Workers United (an affiliate of SEIU) saw the move as retaliation for their successful union campaign, forcing the transfer of employees to other stores with few details about hours and travel costs.
The NLRB ruled Starbucks must offer to reinstate the Hyde Park barista to his former position or a “substantially equivalent” one and compensate him for any loss of earnings that stemmed from his firing. Its ruling comes two months after another NLRB judge found that Starbucks violated federal labor law hundreds of times amid a union drive at cafes in Buffalo, New York, and committed “egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the ‘employees’ fundamental rights.”
Union boosters say these rulings are evidence of a behavioral pattern on the coffee giant's part. Starbucks emerged as a fertile ground for labor organizing as the COVID-19 pandemic roiled the hospitality industry and thrust cafe workers into the front lines of engaging with a deeply divided public. As of early May, just over 300 of Starbucks’ 9,300 company-owned cafes have unionized, according to the Tribune, with about a dozen in the Chicago area. Chicago is also the home to the world’s-largest Starbucks.