Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
May 12, 2023
On May 8, workers at a Starbucks café in Rochester, NY, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) to decertify the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) front group, known as Starbucks Workers United. The SEIU had won an election in April 2022 by a vote of 13-11. Another decertification petition was filed two days later at a store in Manhattan.
A decertification petition means that a sufficient group of workers in the store have decided they want to get rid of their union. The two petitions in New York are the second and third decertifications to have been filed in as many weeks. A location in Buffalo, which was one of the first stores to unionize, also has filed for decertification.
Challenges to Decertification
A major challenge for a successful decertification is that unions are allowed to file what are known as “blocking charges.” A union can file a slew of unfair labor practices charges (ULPs) against the business where the decertification is taking place, and the NLRB will not hold the decertification election until those ULPs are dealt with. This is a frequently used tactic, and its effect is to deprive workers of a choice on the question of union representation. The Trump-era Board attempted to solve this problem by allowing decertification elections to move forward in some circumstances regardless of blocking charges. However, the current Board has decided to gut that effort with a new rulemaking.
NLRB Conduct in Question
Another interesting wrinkle in the decertification effort, particularly at the Buffalo store, is that Starbucks raised numerous concerns about the NLRB’s conduct during the original election campaign, including that Board agents failed to deliver mail ballots to all eligible workers and incorrectly voided two ballots (which doesn’t sound like much until you consider that only 24 workers voted). Of course, the NLRB dismissed those charges. But they are consistent with criticisms of the Board’s conduct of elections that were exposed by an NLRB whistleblower. All of this raises legitimate questions about the NLRB’s impartiality.
Decertification elections are not exactly common, and employers cannot generate them, so it will be interesting to see if these petitions come to fruition. Two additional decertification petitions at Starbucks locations in Oklahoma and Georgia were eventually withdrawn before an election date was set. But the three new petitions are yet another indication that the SEIU’s campaign against Starbucks seems to have stalled.
About the authors
Spencer oversees the Chamber’s work on immigration, retirement security, traditional labor relations, human trafficking, wage hour and worker safety issues, EEOC matters, and state labor and employment law.