ITHACA, N.Y.—Starbucks is being ordered to reopen its Collegetown location in Ithaca after the company closed it in June 2022 and reinstate the workers at the store as part of a sweeping decision by a judge from the National Labor Review Board (NLRB).
Deputy Chief Administrative Law Judge Arthur Amchan issued a decision Thursday, and found the company violated federal labor law on numerous occasions, most of which were related to the treatment of 13 employees at the company’s three unionized store locations in Ithaca — all of which have ceased operations with Starbucks’ move to close its Meadow and Seneca Streets locations in May. While the decision does support several of the workers’ complaints, the functional future of the Collegetown store, and whether it will reopen in the near-term, remains in question.
Amchan wrote in his decision that the closure of the Collegetown location was “done in large part to discourage unionization efforts in Ithaca and elsewhere.”
Starbucks publicly rebuked the determinations of the NLRB in an email sent to The Ithaca Voice on Thursday and stated its intention to fight Amchan’s order legally.
“We strongly disagree with the recommendations issued by the administrative law judge, as the findings are not supported by the facts presented during the proceeding,” said Andrew Trull, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at Starbucks. “We intend to file exceptions contesting the findings and recommendations made.”
While Amchan’s decision sets the stage for the case to continue, Starbucks Workers United lawyer Mike Dolce said the Collegetown store will remain closed unless the NLRB files and successfully pursues an injunction in federal court, in support of Amchan’s decision. Such an injunction could legally require Starbucks to reopen at least the Collegetown Starbucks location while the legal battle continues into the future. If that injunction is not granted, the locations would not be legally forced to reopen until the legal battle is resolved—if the eventual findings are in favor of the workers. It is unclear if or when the NLRB intends to file such an injunction.
In response to worker complaints, which were accepted by the NLRB in November and set in motion hearings held earlier this year, Amchan determined Starbucks violated labor law when it chose to close its Ithaca locations without offering the store’s union an opportunity to bargain. Starbucks has been accused of refusing to negotiate in good faith with over 100 unions across its store locations as labor organizing swept through the corporate coffee chain’s cafes in recent years.
He wrote in his decision that Starbucks’ actions towards its employees were “discriminatory,” and included a slew of orders for the company to adhere to. He cited broader patterns of the company’s behavior at its Ithaca locations as well as individual interactions between the company and its union employees to make his decisions.
The recent wave of employees unionizing at Starbucks locations in the U.S. began in December 2021, when the first set of employees in Buffalo, N.Y. voted to unionize. The organizing effort has been supported and organized by the labor union Workers United. Employees at just over 300 Starbucks stores have unionized since 2021, but there has not been one able to negotiate a contract.
Starbucks Workers United, an organization created and run by Starbucks employees to organize the nationwide unionization efforts, released a statement commending Amchan’s decision on Friday. “Judge Amchan issued this decision only 36 days after final briefs for the case were due, illustrating the magnitude of Starbucks’ violations and the urgency of immediately remedying them.”
Starbucks is being ordered by the NLRB to “immediately” offer jobs to the workers that lost their positions at the company’s Ithaca Collegetown location at the time of closing, or, before June 1, 2022.
The company is also being ordered to compensate six employees from across the three Ithaca locations for their loss of income for being unlawfully discharged.
Starbucks is being ordered to stop denying leave requests to its employees due to their union activity, suggesting that pro-union employees quit their jobs “if they are unhappy,” and stop “discriminating against employees for engaging” in union activity.
Stephanie Heslop, a former barista who worked at multiple Starbucks’ locations in Ithaca from 2021 until the company ceased operations in the city in May, saw Amchan determine that she was denied a promotion to shift supervisor due to her union activity.
Heslop, who is also the chair of the Tompkins County chapter of the Working Families Party, told The Ithaca Voice that the NLRB’s decision is “validating.”
“They violated the law repeatedly and egregiously and all of us who were working there knew it,” Heslop said. “But now there’s an official finding that the things we said were happening actually were.”
Editor-in-Chief Matt Butler contributed reporting to this story.