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US labor judge orders Starbucks to reinstate high-profile union organizer

A federal labor law judge has ordered Starbucks to reinstate a high-profile labor organizer and barista who resigned in 2022 after the coffee giant repeatedly ignored their scheduling requests.

In a decision dated Tuesday, an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Starbucks compelled Jaz Brisack to resign. The judge said Starbucks scheduled Brisack, who uses they/them pronouns, to two or three shifts per week for months despite their repeated requests to reduce their schedule to one shift per week.

The law judge’s decision must still be reviewed and accepted by the National Labor Relations Board, which could then seek a court order to enforce it.

Brisack helped lead the unionization of a Starbucks store in downtown Buffalo, New York, in late 2021. It was the first company-owned Starbucks store to unionize in the U.S. in decades. At least 370 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since then.

After the successful union election at the store, Brisack began working full-time for Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks workers. But they found it increasingly difficult to do that work while also working at Starbucks.

Brisack said Wednesday they are excited to return to work at Starbucks even though the company opposes the unionization effort.

“The law offers Starbucks innumerable delay tactics and avenues of appeal, so I believe this fight will ultimately be won in the court of public opinion, through a consumer boycott of Starbucks,” Brisack said.

Starbucks said Wednesday it is exploring options for further legal review of the judge’s decision. It also noted that a recent third-party report found that Starbucks has consistently told workers it respects their right to unionize.

According to the decision, Starbucks told the judge it expected employees to be available for at least 12 hours per week, and that it scheduled Brisack for those shifts to meet the needs of the store. It said it was not because Brisack was involved with the union.

But Administrative Law Judge Robert Ringler noted that the Starbucks where Brisack worked allowed several employees to work one or two shifts per week.

Ringler also ordered Starbucks to reinstate and provide back pay to nine other workers from western New York stores, including several union supporters who were fired for absences even though the company tolerated absences from workers who weren’t involved in unionizing.

Starbucks and the union haven't agreed to a contract at any of the unionized stores, and no bargaining sessions were held for most of last year. Starbucks said in December that it wanted to restart talks and ratify contracts before the end of this year.

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This story was first published on Feb. 7, 2024. It was corrected Feb. 8, 2024, to use they/them pronouns for Jaz Brisack.