Starbucks eludes U.S. agency's bid to shield pro-union workers from firings
Feb 23 (Reuters) - A federal judge in Detroit on Thursday dealt a blow to a U.S. labor agency by drastically narrowing his recent order that had barred Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) from retaliating against pro-union workers nationwide to cover only one Michigan store.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ordered Starbucks to cease and desist from firing or disciplining employees at the Ann Arbor, Michigan cafe because of their union activity, but rejected the National Labor Relations Board's bid for a much broader ruling covering all the company's U.S. locations.
Goldsmith on Feb. 17 had issued a nationwide cease-and-desist order against Starbucks and told the company to re-hire a shift manager at the Ann Arbor store who was fired after publicly advocating for a union. But the judge withdrew the order on Wednesday citing unidentified "errors."
The board has accused Starbucks of unlawful anti-union tactics at stores across the country during a wave of labor organizing. A nationwide order would have been a potent weapon for the agency to wield in its enforcement efforts.
Court orders can help protect employees while the board litigates cases against their employers, and make it easier for the agency to go back to court to enforce the orders when they are violated.
On Thursday, Goldsmith said the board "has not demonstrated that Starbucks has implemented a corporate-wide anti-union policy."
Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The board's general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, said the order was disappointing but still provides critical protections to workers at the Ann Arbor store.
"We will continue to seek nationwide relief ... to remedy violations of federal labor law by Starbucks and other entities, as appropriate," she said.
Employees have voted to unionize about 280 Starbucks U.S. locations, while rejecting unions at more than 50 stores. Starbucks operates about 9,000 U.S. stores.
The NLRB and Starbucks Workers United, the union organizing workers, have accused the company of firing pro-union employees, promising raises and benefits if workers do not unionize, and refusing to engage in contract talks at some locations. Starbucks has said it respects workers' rights to unionize.
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