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NLRB rules in favor of Pittsburgh Starbucks workers, orders company to rehire fired union leaders

A cardboard sign posted outside a Starbucks reads "no bargain, no baristas".
Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA
A decision from the board Friday tasked the company with rehiring four employees fired after participating in union activities.

The National Labor Relations Board has ordered Starbucks to resolve a long list of labor violations at four of its Pittsburgh locations.

A decision from the board Friday tasked the company with rehiring four employees fired after participating in union activities.

Tori Tambellini, who worked as a shift supervisor at Starbucks’ Market Square location, was among the four fired employees listed in the ruling.

“There was no doubt in our minds that the only reason we were terminated was because they wanted to eliminate the union from our stores,” she said.

Tambellini was notified she had been let go for arriving late to work and stealing time last July, just months after helping to organize the store’s union.

A federal administrative law judge with the NLRB, however, found the company to be inconsistent in its discipline.

“In sum, there is little predictability regarding how lateness is addressed at Market Square,” Judge Robert Ringler wrote. “Some employees virtually have a ‘get out of jail free’ card and arrive late as often as they like without issue, while others are disciplined in deeply inconsistent ways.”

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Another plaintiff, James Greene, told WESA in November he was fired from the company’s Penn Center East location in retaliation for supporting unionization efforts, and for bringing up issues of racism, LGBTQ safety and protections for minors during a union bargaining session.

Greene was almost immediately fired after bargaining ended. According to the NLRB decision, he was one of three people on the union’s five-person bargaining committee that Starbucks fired last year, the others being Tambellini and Brett Taborelli, another plaintiff in the case.

Ringler ordered Starbucks to make them and one other person fired whole for any losses suffered due to their unlawful termination, including those related to wages and benefits.

He also directed the company to offer the group their positions back “without prejudice to their seniority or any other rights or privileges previously enjoyed.”

The ruling addressed labor violations at four different Starbucks locations: Market Square and Penn Center East, as well as Bloomfield and Craig Street.

Ringler ordered that the management at the Penn Center location rescind “unilateral changes” that required workers to make themselves available for weekend shifts.

He also ordered that, given the “egregiousness” of the unfair labor practice violations found, Starbucks must cease and desist from interfering with workers’ union rights in a broad list of actions.

Ringler’s ruling follows several other similar decisions demanding the company reinstate fired union members in Memphis and Buffalo.

Still, Starbucks disputed the charges of discriminatory retaliation.

“Importantly, our policies exist to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for our partners and customers — and strictly prohibit any retaliatory behavior directed toward partners who are interested in a union,” a spokesperson for the company said in a written statement on Wednesday. “Starbucks trains managers that no partner will be disciplined for engaging in lawful union activity and that there will be no tolerance for any unlawful anti-union behavior.”

The company said it disagreed with the ruling and looked forward to “a full legal review” of the allegations. It has until July 28 to appeal.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.