National Labor Board Dings Starbucks for Actions During Castro Store Union Drive

Written by Kevin Truong Published Oct. 11, 2022 • 12:55pm (

The Starbucks location in the Castro at 4094 18th St. sometimes called BearBucks voted to form a union on Tuesday August 16, 2022 becoming the first location in San Francisco to successfully do so. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency that enforces labor law, has filed a formal complaint against Starbucks for its actions during the successful union drive of the coffee company’s location in the Castro. 

The location at 4094 18th St.—commonly referred to as “BearBucks”—became the first Starbucks location in San Francisco to successfully unionize after a 7-2 vote that was certified in August. Six workers at the location chose to abstain. 

According to the NLRB complaint, which was based on a charge filed by Workers United, which represents unionized Starbucks employees, members of the store’s management “interrogated its employees” over their union membership and sympathies on multiple occasions in meetings taking place during work hours. 

The complaint says that the store management also selectively applied policies around absences and punctuality after the union drive started and “threatened employees with unspecified reprisals” for failing to adhere to the rules. 

James Kreiss, a barista at the location who helped organize the union, has said he was questioned by management in the months leading up to the vote.

“Everything from vague questions like, ‘What do you know about unions?’ to more specifics like, ‘Who’s going to be on the bargaining committee, and what names can you give me?’” Kreiss said in an interview in August. 

A hearing on the matter in front of an administrative law judge is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2023.

Starbucks Workers United, the national organizing coalition for the union drive, said that the NLRB has issued 35 separate complaints against Starbucks for its actions in violation of federal law. 

The nationwide Starbucks unionization effort started with a location in Buffalo, New York, that successfully organized a union. Since then, around 200 locations across the country have voted to form a union.

Starbucks has made efforts to limit the unionization drive, saying it limits its ability to improve or change benefits at stores. It also introduced pay increases for employees while excluding workers at unionized stores. 

One former manager in New York testified to a National Labor Relations Board judge that he was told to retaliate against employees who were supportive of the unionization drive, according to reporting from Bloomberg

Recently, Starbucks has started the process of scheduling dates and locations for bargaining sessions with 79 stores. The San Francisco location is not yet part of that.  

Kevin Truong can be reached at

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