Lethbridge Starbucks workers file unionbusting complaint

11 workers have filed multiple complaints with the Alberta Labour Relations Board, alleging that Starbucks is trying to interfere in the unionization process.

Earlier this week, the Alberta Labour Relations Board released their most recent New Applications Report. In the report is a new application alleging interference by Starbucks in the Lethbridge unionization drive.

For example, a worker at one of the Lethbridge locations has cited wrongful dismissal and employer intimidation.

According to the application, Ethan Lacasse alleges that when he asked to transfer to a different location, Starbucks denied the request “due to his support for and activity in the union”. The application went on to claim that this request denial ultimately led to Starbucks terminating his employment.

Also included in this application are 10 co-workers.

As well, it contained three claims not attached to specific workers.

First, it alleges a pre-certification freeze, claiming that Starbucks has “interfered with the representation of employees by decreasing hours of work during the [union] certification campaign.”

One worker I talked to said they had originally requested a minimum of 30 hours a week but ended up getting only 20–25 hours per week. They claim that after the ALRB for union certification was submitted, they consistently received less than 18 hours per week.

Second, the application alleges employer interference, claiming that Starbucks denied other transfer requests to “[send] a message to others that if they support the union, they, too, will be subject to adverse treatment.”

Finally, it alleges illegal employer intimidation, claiming that Starbucks was “sending a negative message to thwart the union’s organizing efforts”.

Naturally, Starbucks denies these claims.

For example, in this notice that was posted at the West Lethbridge Towne Centre location, District Manager Jason Hayes, who’s based in Calgary, says that Starbucks doesn’t agree with the complaint and claim that they haven’t “engaged in any unfair labour practice”.

This response shouldn’t be that surprising, given that Starbucks management has been trying to undermining the Lethbridge unionization drive right from the beginning.

Check out this notice that was sent out prior to USW filed for union certification on behalf of the Lethbridge Starbucks workers. It was also sent out by Hayes, as well as Glen Levy, a store manager on the Westside.

From the second paragraph, we see that Starbucks management was already aware of local workers organizing together.

What’s interesting is that in that same paragraph, Hayes tells Starbucks workers that “and it’s critical you have the facts you need to make an informed decision”, but then fails to provide any “fact” in favour of unionization.

He also tries the oft-used scare tactic of “expensive’ dues as a way to discourage voting in favour of unionization.

For example, he uses the $300 a year figure, because the monthly figure of $25 doesn’t sound as scary.

He also fails to mention that USW’s union dues formula is 1.45% of gross pay and 2¢ per hour worked. Again, $300 sounds much larger.

And since Hayes mentioned the Douglas Street location in Victoria, here’s another attachment that Starbucks manager sent to Lethbridge workers.

Here, we see that as of last month, the starting wage for a barista at this store would be $16.75 an hour, as of last month. A barista working 25 hours a week at that rate, would bring in $21,775 a year in gross income. That’s significantly more than $300.

That averages out to $1,814.58 a month, which itself is drastically larger than the $25 per month in dues.

I guess Hayes forgot those facts.

And while he did mention that the more you make the more you pay, he also forgot that the less you make, the less you pay. And you’d think that one would be more important, given how they allegedly appear to be cutting hours.

A couple of days after USW filed the certification application, a regional manager, Alane Nelmes, sent out this notice.

I find it in equally interesting that Nelmes highlights that workers are free to object to the union application, including the deadline for objection.

One final thing. Notice right at the end, where Nelmes suggests that a union will become between Starbucks management and the workers? I think that’s kind of funny. Because if Starbucks management did actually work directly with the workers, why do the Lethbridge workers have a list of grievances about their work environment?

The ALRB has yet to set a hearing date for this matter.

Since the ALRB doesn’t archive their new application reports, here’s a copy of the most recent one.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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