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Remedy a Drop in the Cup of Starbucks' Fortune
Written by Erin Johansson   
June 10, 2008

A Starbucks employee in Grand Rapids, Mich., is claiming he was fired last week for trying to form a union.  This allegation follows on the heels of a recent National Labor Relations Board settlement that ordered the company to reinstate two New York City workers it illegally fired for organizing, and to stop spying on employees, withholding raises, prohibiting workers from wearing union buttons, and other illegal tactics used to thwart their union effort.

Why, after this settlement, would Starbucks potentially break the law again?  Could it be that the company only had to pay paltry sum of $1,925 to the two fired New York City workers—with no penalties and no impact on the company’s bottom line?

When companies are forced into multi-million dollar settlements for violating discrimination laws, they are typically compelled to improve their human resource systems to prevent future liabilities and to restore their image tarnished by the media coverage.  Yet it’s hard to compel a company to obey federal labor law, as their employees cannot pursue civil litigation when their rights under the National Labor Relations Act are violated, and the NLRB cannot assess penalties. 

If passed by Congress, the Employee Free Choice Act would force employers to take notice by tripling backpay awards, and imposing penalties of up to $20,000 when they willfully or repeatedly fire or discriminate against workers during organizing or first contract efforts.