Starbucks violated labor laws when it fired Denver employee who was unionizing employees, judge rules

Federal labor officials found the coffee chain will be required to reinstate an employee it fired from “The Barn” on Colfax.
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Starbucks employees and their supporters picket outside of a shop on East Colfax Avenue. March 11, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

A judge with the National Labor Relations Board ruled Monday that Starbucks engaged in unfair labor practices at its East Colfax and Milwaukee location in Denver.

The East Colfax location, known as "The Barn" due to its architectural similarity to a farmhouse, voted to unionize last May, becoming the first Denver location to do so. It joined several other Starbucks in the state to join the national organizing wave.

Workers at the location testified on August 2022 in front of administrative law judge Amita Baman Tracy, alleging union busting in the form of "retaliatory termination, disciplinary action, threats, interrogation, captive audience meetings, and more". In her decision, she praised store employees for giving consistent testimonies while criticizing local management.

"Overall, they did not testify truthfully about several issues, which while not relevant to the complaint allegations, certainly diminishes their credibility," Tracy wrote.

Tracy found that Starbucks managers violated several labor laws in the run-up to the Colfax location's union election, including interrogating an employee asking who supported the union, threatening employees, and unfairly terminating Trey Slopsema, a worker at the location.

Michaela Sellaro, an employee who was unlawfully disciplined by Starbucks, praised the judge's decision.

"Ultimately it just feels good for us to be vindicated. We did our jobs well, we told the truth, and we won... again," Sellaro said in a press release.

The judge ruled that Starbucks must cease and desist from these activities. The coffee chain must now reinstate Slopsema and owe him back pay. The location will also be required to post a notice indoors telling employees it broke labor laws and outlining the steps it must legally take to meet the judge's ruling.

Starbucks continues to face legal challenges from its unionized locations. In March, the NLRB will hear another case alleging unfair labor practices at Starbucks locations in Denver and Colorado Springs.

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