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Starbucks fired Long Island union leader in retaliation, labor board claims in new lawsuit

The suit was filed the same day the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the coffee chain broke labor laws by refusing to bargain with workers at a Seattle store.

LONG ISLAND (CN) — Starbucks retaliated against unionizing employees at a Long Island location by threatening to cut promotion opportunities, hours and benefits, and firing the lead organizer, the National Labor Relations Board claimed in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday. 

The suit is among hundreds of unfair labor charges the board has brought against the international coffee corporation for anti-union efforts. It claims that store managers retaliated after all employees at a Great Neck, New York branch signed union cards in February, including firing shift manager Joselyn Chuquillanqui, the “leading organizer” of the unit. 

The day after the card signing, a manager in the "back room" at the store threatened to take away benefits like tuition, health insurance and holiday time, and to more strictly enforce time and attendance policies, according to the complaint.

Chuquillanqui's hours were cut while others were required to work more; another store manager threatened to fire part-time employees who refused to take on the additional work; and the store cracked down on a free food and beverage policy that was not strongly enforced in the past, the federal labor board says.

Following the alleged union-busting, the decision over whether to join Starbucks Workers United failed in a 5-to-6 vote in May. The union filed multiple unfair labor practice complaints throughout the spring and summer leading to the labor board lawsuit. 

Along with the complaint in the Eastern District of New York, the board filed a preliminary injunction motion asking for a cease and desist and for Chuquillanqui to be reinstated. 

“This relief is critical to ensure that Starbucks employees in Great Neck, NY and throughout the nation can effectively exercise the rights guaranteed to them under federal law to engage in union activities and other collective action to improve their working conditions,” said Teresa Poor, the labor board’s regional director in Brooklyn, in a statement.  

Chuquillanqui publicly accused Starbucks of retaliation after she was fired in July. 

“I had already been warning customers that I was going to get fired,” Chuquillanqui told the Long Island Press in an Aug. 3, 2022 article. “[Management was] trying to make an example out of me and make everyone more complacent.”

Starbucks denies flouting labor board procedures and says it encourages “partners” — the coffee chain’s term for its employees — to exercise their right to vote in union elections. As for Chuquillanqui’s firing, the company cites issues with attendance and mishandling a store key. 

“We strongly disagree with the merits of today’s filing and look forward to sharing the facts and addressing inaccuracies as we work side-by-side with our partners to reinvent Starbucks for the future,” Starbucks wrote in a statement emailed to Courthouse News. 

The suit was filed the same day the labor board ruled that Starbucks broke labor laws when it refused to bargain with employees at a Seattle location. 

Employees have unionized at more than 250 Starbucks locations nationwide, starting with a December 2021 vote in Buffalo, New York

The movement parallels ramped up union efforts at other major corporations over the past year, including Kellogg — whose employees held an 11-week labor strike in late 2021 — and Amazon, whose employees formed its first U.S. union in April at a Staten Island facility. 

Last week, a federal judge ruled that Amazon interfered with union efforts at the same facility and came up with a pretext to discharge an employee who complained about inadequate Covid-19 protections in the early days of the pandemic.

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