Starbucks illegally fired Colorado supervisor for union support, judge rules

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Len Harris, a shift supervisor at the Starbucks on Rock Creek Circle in Superior, is leading efforts there among staff to form a union. Photographed Monday, April 4, 2022.

A Starbucks store in Superior may have to rehire and provide back pay to a shift supervisor who allegedly lost her job last year over her union support. 

An administrative judge with the National Labor Relations Board – the country’s top labor agency – found the company fired Len Harris in Nov. 2022 due to “anti-union considerations.” Last May, Harris’ store became the first shop in Colorado to unionize amid a national wave of organizing. 

At least 10 other stores in Colorado have unionized since, along with more than 350 nationwide. 

Starbucks has faced dozens of union-busting allegations over the past year, which it has denied. 

Harris’ ruling, which was issued Dec. 19, is at least the second federal decision stating the company illegally targeted Colorado union workers. Baristas in Denver won a similar ruling in February. 

“I very much intend to go back to Starbucks,” Harris said. “The community, the people that it kind of brought to work with, were great people for me to be around.” 

Harris’ union, Starbucks Workers United, brought its complaint against the company shortly after her firing on Nov. 18, 2022. They claimed the company broke federal laws that protect worker rights around organizing when it fired the shift supervisor, who had worked for Starbucks since 2016. 

The case went to trial this past fall. Baristas testified that after workers won their union election, managers at Harris’ store on Rock Creek Circle cracked down on employee conduct policies, according to the NLRB’s ruling.

Managers told employees they would enforce the “dress code and other policies more strictly to prepare them for the next store manager, who likely would be anti-union,” the ruling said. 

Harris specifically faced written warnings over alleged violations of a company cash-handling policy, which the company said became the basis for her termination. In their testimony, Harris claimed the policies were unclear. 

The NLRB judge found the company had anti-union motivations for firing Harris, along with the cash policy violations. Her termination took place the day following a strike. 

Starbucks, in a statement, said it disagreed with the judge’s ruling and would appeal it. 

“We continue to defend the company and the rights of our partners as matters are fully adjudicated by the NLRB and federal courts,” a company spokesman said. 

Harris’ case, and the company’s appeal, must see a final review by the NLRB before they’re made official. A date for the hearing has not been set. 

If approved, the ruling would order Starbucks to rehire Harris and provide back pay. It also states the company must stop “discharging or otherwise discriminating against employees because of their support for Workers United.”

The case comes a week after another NLRB judge ruled that Starbucks illegally closed a Colorado Springs store in retaliation for worker organizing. The company has appealed that decision. 
After months of delays, the company and Starbucks Workers United union say they plan to resume bargaining talks at stores in January. So far, no unionized stores in Colorado have secured contracts.