Skip to contents
Business

Starbucks workers allege retaliation for union efforts at Colorado stores

There seems to be something about 2022 as workers at Amazon, Apple stores, REI, Activision Blizzard and even Trader Joe’s move forward with union efforts

Denver’s 16th and Tremont Starbucks is seen on March 4, the metro’s second location to independently unionize. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
  • Credibility:

What’s Working: This is a segment of our weekly What’s Working column. Read the full column. >> Sign up for the newsletter

Since Jan. 1, workers at nearly two dozen companies have filed for the right to be represented, including caregivers at The Bridge at Longmont assisted living to tree trimmers at Asplundh Tree Expert in Cortez, ballet dancers at Boulder Ballet to baristas at Starbucks in Denver and Colorado Springs, according to filings with the National Labor Relations Board. 

But after winning the right to unionize, there’s trouble brewing for three Denver-area Starbucks stores, which allege that the prolific coffee seller has retaliated against workers.

“Every day more workers are getting in touch to organize their stores, and Starbucks can only delay the inevitable, but at the cost of goodwill and their reputation, not to mention legal fees and injunctions,” said Malachi Dray, an organizer from Chicago & Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United who is working with local Starbucks workers. 

In filings with the NLRB, workers at the stores at 16th Street Mall, Colfax (The Barn) and on Leetsdale Drive, the union alleged that Starbucks reduced store hours, engaged in surveillance of employees and threatened one worker while terminating another “because she engaged in protected concerted activities and after the store’s employees collectively voted in support of Union representation,” according to the filing.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

“Unfortunately, Starbucks knows all too well that they can afford to violate the NLRA and overwhelm the legal process for injunctions and remedies on their violations. They are banking on the terror-effect of their retaliation scaring other workers away from unionizing sooner than the Board can right their wrongs. But this reckless strategy is catching up with them day by day, as federal trials are scheduled for their labor law violations, including in Denver,” Dray said in an email.

Firing a worker only because they engaged in union-related activity isn’t allowed in Colorado.

Starbucks says that didn’t happen.

“Claims of union busting are false,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in an email. 

The company is among many large employers facing union efforts in their ranks. Nationwide, the momentum has grown. Amazon workers at a New York warehouse became the company’s first in the nation to unionize in April after years of attempts in other states. (Amazon plans to appeal, The Wall Street Journal reported.) But there seems to be something about 2022. So far this year, workers at Apple storesoutdoor retailer REI, game developer Activision Blizzard and even Trader Joe’s have said they’re moving forward.

“What makes 2022 so special is that workers have unusual power in the labor market at this time. Because of the Great Resignations, withdrawals from the labor force, and heightened demand for labor as a consequence of economic growth, workers are in a better position than they have been for a long time,” Jeffrey Zax, a professor of economics and labor expert at the University of Colorado. “Unionization efforts are probably taking place in workplaces where employers have not fully understood or adapted to the new conditions.”

In Denver, Starbucks employees have said a big reason for unionizing was to get a seat at the table, especially when it came to keeping their stores secure so employees feel safe. The company already offered health benefits, though higher pay is also a goal.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Starbucks is facing unionizing efforts nationwide with the Starbucks Workers United claiming more than 135 stores are in solidarity. On Monday, union organizers announced that the Starbucks store at 3rd and Columbine in Cherry Creek became the fourth store in Denver and seventh store in Colorado to successfully vote to unionize.

According to union officials, those include:

  • 1455 S Nevada Ave. in Colorado Springs
  • 4465 Centennial Boulevard in Colorado Springs
  • 16th & Tremont in Denver
  • 250 Columbine St #160 in Denver
  • 2975 E Colfax Ave in Denver
  • 5835 Leetsdale in Denver
  • 2800 Rock Creek Circle, A1 in Superior

The company says it prefers to be partners with its workforce.

“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores, as we always do across the country. Starbucks success — past, present, and future — is built on how we partner together, always with our mission and values at our core,” according to a company statement. “We’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed.”

What’s Working: This is a segment of our weekly What’s Working column. Read the full column. >> Sign up for the newsletter



We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable. This reporting depends on support from readers like you.