Anti-union Starbucks worker challenges structure of US labor board

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) – A Starbucks Corp employee who wants to dissolve a union at a New York store filed a lawsuit on Wednesday claiming the structure of the federal agency overseeing a nationwide union campaign targeted at the coffee chain is unconstitutional.

The worker, Ariana Cortes, filed the lawsuit in Washington, D.C. federal court after an official at the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) dismissed her petition seeking to decertify the union at the Buffalo, New York, store where she works. Cortes is represented by the conservative National Right to Work Foundation.

Cortes claims that restrictions in U.S. labor law on the president’s ability to remove the NLRB’s five members from office violate the U.S. Constitution.

NLRB spokeswoman Kayla Blado declined to comment on the lawsuit. Starbucks is not involved in the case.

Federal law only allows NLRB members, who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, to be removed for “neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.”

The NLRB typically has three members from the president’s party and two from the opposing party. The members’ five-year terms are staggered, so it can take years for control to change hands under a new presidential administration. The NLRB currently has a 3-1 Democratic majority, with one vacancy.

Cortes says the president should be able to remove NLRB members at will because they wield executive power by enforcing federal labor law, including overseeing union elections, issuing subpoenas and making rules.

The lawsuit seeks to strike down the limits on the president’s removal powers. Cortes said she also will move to block the NLRB from ruling on her petition pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

The National Right to Work Foundation represents workers in legal disputes with unions and has criticized recent rulings by the Democrat-led labor board making it easier to unionize.

The Buffalo store is one of more than 360 Starbucks locations in the U.S. to unionize since 2021.

The labor board is currently considering more than 100 cases accusing Starbucks of unlawful conduct, including firing union supporters, barring organizing in stores and refusing to bargain with unions. Starbucks has denied wrongdoing.

Cortes in her lawsuit says the union is unpopular at the Buffalo store and that a majority of employees there are in favor of dissolving it.

An NLRB official dismissed Cortes’ petition in May, saying no election could be held until cases accusing Starbucks of unfair labor practices at the Buffalo store were resolved. Cortes has appealed that decision to the five-member board.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Deepa Babington)