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With foundation support Starbucks Greenville employee acts to decertify union

Krys Merryman //August 15, 2023//

With foundation support Starbucks Greenville employee acts to decertify union

Krys Merryman //August 15, 2023//

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One year after highly publicized unionization efforts, workers from at least five different states have begun efforts to remove Starbucks Workers United.

The National Right to Work Foundation has thrown its support behind a Starbucks worker's effort to keep unions out. (Photo/File)An employee of a Greenville Starbucks Coffee location near Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (Interstate 85 and Pelham Road) has submitted a petition to the National Labor Relations Board, asking the federal agency to hold a vote among her colleagues to remove the union from the workplace, according to the National Right to Work Foundation news release.

The employee, Kacie Bory, is receiving free legal representation from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys. The foundation provides free legal services to anti-union efforts.

Established in 1968, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization with a mission to “eliminate coercive union power and compulsory unionism abuses through strategic litigation, public information, and education programs.”

According to The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, the foundation has connections to a national far-right network led by the Koch brothers and the John Birch Society, and counts as donors the Walton Family Foundation, the Coors family’s Castel Rock Foundation and Searle Freedom Trust.

“My coworkers and I are very disappointed with the performance of SBWU union officials,” said Bory. “They’ve done a lousy job of communicating with me and my colleagues and also haven’t stood up for our interests in the workplace. I am confident that the majority of my colleagues will vote to send SBWU officials packing, and we hope that the union will not try any legal maneuvers to derail this election.”

Bory’s petition allegedly contains signatures from the requisite number of coworkers to trigger a union decertification election under the NLRB’s rules. While South Carolina is a Right to Work state, meaning the SBWU union can compel neither Bory nor her coworkers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of staying employed, SBWU is still empowered by federal law to impose a union contract on employees at the store who oppose the union. A successful decertification vote would strip union officials of that power, the release said.

Starbucks Workers United is a collective of Starbucks Partners across the United States, trying to organize its workplaces with the support of Workers United Upstate, a union with experience helping baristas.

Workers United was founded by immigrant garment workers who were fighting to work in safe conditions for decent pay. Today, Workers United represents workers across many industries — laundries and warehouses, textile factories and manufacturing plants, and restaurants and coffee shops.

SC Biz News asked the National Right to Work Foundation to provide specifications of the negative impacts the SBWU has had on Starbucks employees and had not received a response by Tuesday afternoon.

"The National Right to Work Foundation, an extremist organization, is partnering with Starbucks' virulent and illegal anti-union campaign,” the SBWU Communications Committee said in a statement. “Starbucks illegally refuses to bargain with our union, illegally disciplines and fires union supporters, and illegally changes working conditions, then the National Right to Work Foundation piggybacks on this activity in an attempt to decertify our union. The National Labor Relations Board so far has dismissed every decertification filed at Starbucks stores because they are irreparably tainted by Starbucks' illegal conduct. We expect the same result with the current decertification."

Greenville Starbucks employees join ‘burgeoning’ worker movement against SBWU

Bory and her coworkers’ effort is the latest in a chain of decertification pushes across the country, according to the foundation.

In the past few months, Starbucks employees in Manhattan and Buffalo, N.Y., Pittsburgh, Bloomington, Minn., and Salt Lake City have all sought free foundation legal aid in pursuing their decertification petitions at the NLRB, the release said.

The decertification attempts are occurring roughly one year after SBWU union agents engaged in a unionization campaign. Federal labor law forbids workers from decertifying a union for a year after a union’s installation, meaning some workers are seizing on the earliest possible opportunity to rid themselves of the SBWU union’s representation, the release said.

Outside of Starbucks, union decertification efforts are becoming much more common, the release said. Currently, the NLRB’s data shows a unionized private sector worker is more likely to be involved in a decertification effort than their nonunion counterpart is to be involved in a unionization campaign. NLRB statistics also show a 20% increase in decertification petitions last year versus 2021, the release said.

SBWU officials at the Greenville Starbucks have already filed a motion seeking the dismissal of Bory’s petition, the release said.

“The well-funded and highly politicized campaign to install union power at Starbucks is fast unravelling, as more and more workers are discovering that their interests deviate from those of union organizers, many of whom left soon after installing the union,” National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix said. “While SBWU officials nationwide are using every trick in the book to try to block the workers they claim to ‘represent’ from voting on whether the union deserves to stay, foundation staff attorneys will continue to fight for the exercise of this essential free choice right.”

Andrew Trull, Starbucks senior manager of corporate communications and public affairs, said the company was notified by the NLRB that partners at its Interstate 85 and Pelham Road store in Greenville filed a petition to decertify Workers United as their bargaining representative on Aug. 4.

The NLRB previously certified Workers United as the store’s collective bargaining representative on June 10, 2022, he said.

Starbucks made attempts to begin contract negotiations for the store, most recently in February, but identified Workers United representatives failed to confirm bargaining session dates proposed by the company, he added.

“While Starbucks continues to make good faith efforts to negotiate first contracts for certified stores, partners at 16 stores across the country have filed petitions to decertify Workers United as their bargaining representative,” said Trull. “Unfortunately, in each instance where partners have appropriately filed petitions to hold a decertification vote, Workers United and the NLRB have sought to deprive those partners of their right to choose whether they want to maintain union representation through a secret ballot election. Union representation is a personal choice upheld by the complex framework of U.S. labor law, and we respect the right of our partners to decide whether they want to join, or refrain from joining, a union. Workers United and the NLRB should equally respect the rights of all partners regardless of their views.”

Trull said Starbucks has no affiliation with the National Right to Work Foundation, has made no contribution to the organization, and has not been party to efforts by the foundation to assist partners seeking to file a decertification petition with the NLRB. The law prohibits Starbucks from assisting partners seeking to decertify Workers United. It is a process that must be initiated and voted upon by the partners in the store, he said.