Starbucks (SBUX) filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against the union backing baristas, an escalation of tensions between the coffee giant and pro-union employees.
In two complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the coffee chain alleged that the Workers United labor organization exhibited behavior in Phoenix and Denver that was "reasonably expected to physically intimidate and bully partners and customers in retaliation for their withholding support of Workers United."
"These charges are a continuation of Starbucks' war against its own partners. It takes a lot of gall for a company that's launched one of the most aggressive & intense anti-union campaigns in modern history to file these charges," Starbucks Workers United, the subsidiary representing baristas, told Yahoo Finance in a statement. "Starbucks is getting desperate as it loses this war in battle after battle, because we—the Starbucks partners—continue to organize and fight for a real voice within the company. These charges are just the latest example of that desperation."
Workers United has helped Starbucks partners, as employees are known, file over 90 Unfair Labor Practice charges against the Seattle-based company amid efforts to unionize. The new complaints are the first time that Starbucks has officially made Unfair Labor Practice charges against Workers United.
In a letter sent to U.S. staff and obtained by Yahoo Finance, Starbucks Executive Vice President Rossann Williams stated that allegations include "blocking entrances and exits, making threats, yelling profanities, and surrounding a store and pounding on the windows to physically intimidate and bully partners inside in retaliation for not supporting Workers' United organizing drive."
In a phone interview, Starbucks Senior Vice President of Global Communications and Publica Affairs AJ Jones told Yahoo Finance that the some partners asked the company to intervene after becoming "very much concerned about the Workers United organizers threatening their livelihood and their physical well being."
One of the locations listed in the Starbucks complaints is 7000 East Mayo Blvd in Phoenix, which is the source of a previous labor complaint brought on behalf pro-union employees over alleged union busting activity. A second complaint against Starbucks related to the same location was recently filed, and a hearing before a NLRB administrative law judge is set for June.
The union fight within Starbucks has increasingly intensified as more than 200 of the coffee chain's 9,000 company-operated stores in the U.S. have filed for union elections. More than 20 stores voted for unionization while two stores voted against unionizing.
"We have seen a consistent pattern of disturbing behavior from some union organizers that has increased and become more aggressive since last Fall," Williams asserted, later adding: "We're [filing the complaint] to protect the physical safety and emotional wellbeing of our partners and to make it very clear that the behavior we're seeing from some union organizers is not acceptable and we won't tolerate it."
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz recently returned to lead Starbucks on an interim basis, telling partners in a town hall meeting that companies across the country were "being assaulted in many ways by the threat of unionization" while also acknowledging that the company made "some mistakes during COVID."
Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv