Starbucks in hot water: NLRB confirms employee intimidation allegations


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Starbucks is in hot water after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says the coffee giant discriminated against its unionized workers in Buffalo.

Members of Starbucks Workers United, the labor union created by local workers, are calling this lengthy review of their allegations historic and far-reaching. The NLRB investigated workers’ claims and says Starbucks broke the law, and must provide a remedy.

The 45-page complaint details many allegations of intimidation and discrimination for unionized workers. It claims Starbucks tried to bully employees into not unionizing by offering them similar benefits that the union fought hard to gain. The complaint also describes that several employees were fired for being union advocates and some Starbucks locations were even shutdown because of the effort.

The complaint can be viewed in its entirety here:

The Federal Board alleges Starbucks also illegally surveyed their employees and cut hours of union-advocates.

“The NLRB’s regional office in Buffalo confirmed that Starbucks has been breaking the law in numerous ways in hundreds of accounts,” Ian Hayes, Esq., partner at Hayes Dolce, which represents Starbucks Workers United, told News 4.

The union held a press conference Friday to address these claims. One of the workers said Starbucks cut her hours for being pro-union. She had to find a second job to make up for her lost pay, but she says because she was less available for her barista job, Starbucks fired her.

“In doing so, they decided I no long met the needs for business. That was their grounds for firing me essentially,” Cassie Fleischer said.

Fleischer hopes to return to her job soon and believes this compliant by the NLRB will allow her to do that.

The official document from the Labor Board follows an investigation into the union’s claims that Starbucks violated worker’s rights. The board concluded that the workers allegations were true. They say Starbucks should reinstate workers who were fired, reopen closed locations in Western New York, provide apology letters to employees affected, train managers on workers rights and more.

“The company has been essentially lying to the rest of the country and the world by saying nothing like that is going on in Buffalo. That’s not taking place in Buffalo,” Michelle Eisen, organizer of Starbucks Workers United, said. “These workers are lying to you. Well, it turns out the company was lying to everybody else.”

Starbucks must provide a formal response to the NLRB by May 20, but legal experts say this could go before a judge.

“The NLRB, the Federal agency, is going to be prosecuting Starbucks for breaking the law for violating workers rights under Federal labor law. That’s going to involve a trial before a judge,” Hayes added.

The company disputes the claims made by the workers and the NLRB in a statement issued to News 4.

The complaint, issued by the NLRB Regional Director in Buffalo, involves important issues. However, Starbucks does not agree that the claims have merit, and the complaint’s issuance does not constitute a finding by the NLRB. It is the beginning of a litigation process that permits both sides to be heard and to present evidence.  We believe the allegations contained in the complaint are false, and we look forward to presenting our evidence when the allegations are adjudicated. 


The union is calling the NLRB confirmation a major victory.

“It was their word against ours, but it is no longer our word against ours anymore, so I think that that will add a lot of strength to these campaigns that are popping up across the country to the stores that are currently organizing,” Eisen concluded.

Many workers hope their efforts will help not only Starbucks employees in Western New York, but workers at the dozens of stores that have organized since the unionization effort began in Buffalo.

Accusations made by the union against Starbucks include the coffee chain’s firing of workers in support of the union and new benefits not being offered to unionized workers.

Angel Krempa, who led unionization efforts in Depew, was terminated April 1. Starbucks said it was due to her lack of following late arrival protocols, but Krempa said she went through proper communication channels to report these late arrivals.

“I was fired yesterday, and their reasons for firing me are that I was late two times. They said I didn’t use the proper forms of communication channels,” Krempa told News 4 in April. “I have the time logs and the proof showing I did use — and went through the proper channels and everything like that.”

Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges presented the corporation’s feelings on the situation.

“Specifically to Angel, we have a track record here dating back prior to November,” Borges said. “Really, she was at the point where she got a final written warning of behavior and attendance issues, and that behavior has not changed.”

After Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced Thursday that he’d be raising pay and extending benefits for non-union stores only, a store in downtown Buffalo participated in a one-day strike.

“Where Starbucks lacks the right to unilaterally make these changes (for example, stores where there is a union or union organizing) Starbucks will provide wage increases that were announced in October 2021 and will otherwise comply with all applicable legal requirements,” Schultz said in the announcement.

Employee Emily Bassett expressed her love for her place of work, saying unionization was only ever about wanting better benefits for partners. She spoke with News 4 on union stores being excluded.

“We are partners coming together because we love Starbucks and we want those benefits for partners, Bassett said. “So being excluded in this because we are attempting to come together and make it a better company, it hurts.”

Per the NLRB website, an administrative law judge will preside over the case and will file a decision.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.

Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.