By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Phoenix) — A United States District Judge on Wednesday dealt a blow to Starbucks Workers United, finding in favor of the coffee chain after three partners sought reinstatement and proper accommodations at the Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard store.
Judge John Tuchi ruled in downtown Phoenix against the National Labor Relations Board, which sought swift reinstatement for Laila Dalton and Alyssa Sanchez at store #62567 following their firings earlier this year. The NLRB's request for Starbucks to provide medical accommodations for barista trainer Tyler Gillette was also denied.
An NLRB spokesperson declined to comment when reached for a response Thursday.
Dalton, Gillette, and Sanchez have all been involved in labor organizing activity at the Scottsdale and Mayo store. Workers still hope to join up with the nearly 140 unionized Starbucks cafés around the U.S. The result of this store's May 5 union election is still tied up in the courts, but its fate will be determined separately from the reinstatement case brought before a district judge on Wednesday.
Scottsdale and Mayo shift supervisor Bill Whitmire told NewsBreak that what happened Wednesday is "just one step in the process."
“It’s not the end of anything, it’s not going to impact our movement. We’re going to continue to organize — it’s the grassroots organizing that’s going to win this war," Whitmire said via phone. "We’re going to win a union by organizing ourselves, by doing walkouts, by doing strikes, by doing actions.”
Whitmire was in attendance Wednesday, though he was sequestered for much of the day in court. Still, despite not being called to testify, he was able to keep track of how the hearing unfolded from the witness room.
Dalton spent roughly 90 minutes on the stand, where eight of the company's lawyers — including a lead attorney flown in from Philadelphia — questioned her about the sensitive footage and audio she recorded from her myriad meetings with management prior to her April 4 dismissal.
Starbucks argued that Dalton's recording activity was unprotected because she was not always present in the back room while her phone was recording. Whitmire says he too had a recording app in frequent use, and he offered to share these files with Starbucks attorneys — but they were uninterested.
Dalton was unavailable to comment for this story, but she took to social media Wednesday evening to express some thoughts on the ruling.
"We may have lost a battle, but we haven't lost the war," she tweeted. "June 14th is just a corner away. WE WILL PREVAIL!"
If Tuchi had ruled in the NLRB's favor, Starbucks would have had to reinstate Dalton and Sanchez within five days, and Gillette's medical accommodations would have had to be provided within the same time frame. Then, an NLRB representative would have come to Scottsdale and Mayo to "check up" on the store.
The reinstatements could still be on the table, despite the outcome of Wednesday's hearing. On June 14, an administrative law judge can reverse the ruling and pave the way for damages (such as back pay) to be awarded to Dalton and Sanchez.
NewsBreak has been told the NLRB process that will guide the June 14 hearing is more exhaustive and time-consuming. Seeking injunctive relief was a faster mechanism for the workers to win reinstatements following retaliatory firings and receive damages on the grounds of irreparable harm.
"At the end of the day, we really care about our store, and we love everyone there. We love all of the customers, all of our regulars, and we just want to be able to continue working there under fair pretenses," Gillette told the Copper Courier's Jessica Swarner. "We want our managers to treat us just like they treat everybody else, which — after we went public with the union — wasn't happening."
Workers at a dozen more Starbucks stores voted to unionize in elections held around the country on Tuesday and Wednesday, while Whitmire said he was inundated with supportive texts and phone calls from partners and advocates nationwide after the hearing ended. He asserts that partners the company has fired — ostensibly for union involvement — need their jobs back, but systematic organizing will continue to supersede Wednesday’s decision.
“The message we sent today is that when Starbucks goes after our workers, we will use the legal system to get those workers reinstated and get reparations for those workers," Whitmire said. "And the union’s behind us on that.”
NewsBreak has been told additionally that collective bargaining has gotten underway at some stores, and the NLRB has the authority to order bargaining sessions to begin under certain conditions — such as extreme coercion or harassment. In fact, it has already done so at the Camp Road store in Buffalo, New York.