Court Sides With Starbucks In Dispute Over Labor Union Pins

You won’t be seeing Starbucks baristas sporting aprons covered in Industrial Workers of the World pins anytime in the near future, after a U.S. appeals court ruled today that the coffee company is within its rights to stop employees from wearing too much of the pro-union flare.

The dispute, between Starbucks by the National Labor Relations Board, centered on just how many pro-union buttons a Starbucks employee could wear at any one time. The company’s policy had limited it to one, but an NLRB ruling said employees were not limited in the number of buttons they chose to pin to their uniforms.

“We conclude that the Board has gone too far in invalidating Starbucks’s one button limitation,” wrote the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that the company had a right to limit the distraction that may be caused by an employee wearing too much pro-union flare. Court documents referenced one NYC Starbucks staffer who wore eight buttons to work.

The Starbucks policy limited each employees to one IWW button that was less than 1″ in diameter.

Starbucks issued the following statement to Consumerist:

We are pleased by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling today, which we view as an affirmation of the progressive and positive workplace we strive to create for our partners (employees).

We’ve also NLRB and IWW for comment and will update if anyone actually replies to our requests.

Starbucks baristas can’t be union billboards-court [Reuters]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Hirayuki says:

    Psst: it’s “flair”. Unless it’s on fire.

  2. Cat says:

    But, it’s one of my fifteen pieces of flair!

  3. Jawaka says:

    Fair enough. They work for Starbucks, not the union.

    • bluline says:

      I think Starbucks should be able to prohibit all pins, and any other messaging medium, for any employees who deal with customers. It’s their store and their aprons/uniforms. They should be able to determine what goes on them.

      • StarKillerX says:

        Actually i agree completely. If they wore random shirts and crap I could see allowing it but if they are required to wear a uniform why should they be allowed to alter it by placing a union pin on it?

        I don’t have a problem is they want to be, or are, in a union. But that shouldn’t effect a companies uniform policies.

      • JJFIII says:

        Then they will need to ban ALL “flair” including American flags and pink ribbons for breast cancer etc.

        • maxamus2 says:

          Actually, since it is a uniform, I believe they can dictate exactly what is allowed to be worn and not worn.

    • DFManno says:

      But there are laws barring employers from interfering with union-related activities.

      Besides, Starbucks doesn’t own its workers, just employs them.

  4. Invader Zim says:

    Yes we are worried about those darn pins being a distraction so we will take this valuable time away from our main focus and take those pin wearers down.

  5. Blueskylaw says:

    I’m sorry Miss Barista, I wasn’t staring at that, I was staring at your pin.

  6. Doubting thomas says:

    How does this even get to a court. They are paying you. They have a uniform standard. You conform to that standard of you find somewhere else to work.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Because IIRC it is not legal to prevent union organizing unless it’s interfering with their job performance.

      I’m usually pro-union, but I don’t have a problem with some reasonable limit as long as the pro-union messages aren’t completely banned.

      • Bsamm09 says:

        Why should they be allowed to wear a union pin at all unless Starbucks wants them to? It’s not part of the uniform. Let them post all the signs they want about the union in the break room.

        • coffee100 says:

          > Let them post all the signs they want about the union in the break room.

          Why should they be allowed to do that? It’s not their store. Why should they be allowed to drive to work? It’s probably not their car. Belongs to the finance company.

          You know what, let’s take away all their power and wealth and make them sit in their own filth. Then the owner can stand there with their arms folded in victory. Because it’s not really about the buttons. It’s about “you’ll do as you’re told, especially if you don’t like it.”

          While you’re taking $9 an hour jobs (and their homes, schooling, families and all their other possessions) away from people, why not ask yourself when American employers grew to harbor spitting, hissing contempt for their employees?

          I can tell you I’ve worked for exactly one boss in my entire career who wasn’t a seething, dull-witted, malcontented, hateful, black-hearted, lying pig.

          • Bsamm09 says:

            I thought your post down thread was a joke but apparently it isn’t. I can’t believe you are actually serious. I feel bad for you.

            As far as your “career” goes, I assume you own your own business. If all but one of my bosses were like yours, I’d have to venture out on my own as the market clearly is under-served. Do you let you workers organize and wear pro-union pins? How about anti-union pens?

            I’m guessing you don’t actually have a career. You probably drift from one job to the next, staying only as long until you feel slighted and quit or your true personality shows and they can your ass.

            You jump from a uniform issue to taking away all their possessions and made to sit in their own filth. I don’t know why this is so deep seeded in you but I’m pretty sure it comes across to most people you talk to for a short time. Life’s gonna be rough for you. Best of luck.

            • coffee100 says:

              > As far as your “career” goes, I assume you own your own business.

              Damn skippy. I now outproduce all of my former employers combined.

              > Do you let you workers organize and wear pro-union pins?

              They don’t have to. I’m not an asshole.

              > You probably drift from one job to the next

              Haven’t had a job for over 11 years. I don’t need one.

              >You jump from a uniform issue to taking away all their possessions and made to sit in their own filth.

              I have a free clue for you. Wages have been stagnant in this country for 39 years. That means people were making MORE in real dollar terms (inflation adjusted) in 1972 than they are now. That’s a fact. Look it up.

              Why is this true? Because of stories like this. Managers want their employees face down in shit with a boot against their neck. That’s ALL managers, not just a few. The American workplace is a toxic, adversarial Kafka-esque toilet compared to what it once was. If managers thought they could get away with it, they would start every work day with six or seven shots from an axe-handle to the knees. You probably think I’m kidding, and that just shows how short-sighted and naive you are.

              I’d rather have my ass slathered in gravy and run naked through a cage full of rottweilers having their crotches electrocuted than take a full time job anywhere in this country right now. As if having a job in this knees-bent obsessively ingratiating culture is worth a shit in the first place. I’d lay odds against even getting paid at all at some companies.

              If you think having a “job” is the key to success, I wish you the best because you are in for one long fucking night of plunging that particular bowl.

              • incident_man says:

                Having worked for several major corporations, I agree with your assertion that bosses, in general, suck. The problem is coming from the executive level, though, and trickles down from there, because of the old adage that, “shit rolls downhill.” Greedy executives from most corporations have adopted the viewpoint that workers are their property and the managers they oversee are little more than slavemasters hired to do their bidding. If a manager fails at his task, then the executives get rid of them and hire one that shows a bit more exuberance at the prospect of his new “responsibility.”

                It’s truly sad the depths that we have fallen as a society that we are willing to accept this sort of behaviour from corporations in the name of ever-increasing profits, at the expense of all else. The boards of directors of these companies tell their detractors that they need to behave this way in order to make a profit and stay in business, but I have but one rebuttal:

                Fifty years ago, when employees were treated like assets rather than commodities as they are now, and greed and profit were not the end-all-and-be-all of corporate decisions, were some of these same companies, that engage in such abhorrent behaviour now, not able to make a sufficient profit to ensure the growth of the company and shareholder value?

                What is the problem here? What is the disconnect? Why can’t huge mega-corporations be satsified with making a decent profit, rather than a grossly obscene one?

                How many zeroes have to be tacked on to the end of executive paychecks/bonuses, company profits, share prices, and shareholder dividends before those who are making the decisions are truly satisfied with the results?

      • Jawaka says:

        The union is already organized, there’s no reason for the pins at this point.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          There is no union organisation in Starbucks stores. Don’t be a fucking dense moron.

          Unless you work 80 hours a week at under minimum wage, with no vacation or sick leave allowed, or for yourself, you owe every single workplace benefit to the unions.

  7. Harry Greek says:

    “You won’t be seeing Starbucks baristas sporting aprons covered in Industrial Workers of the World pins anytime in the near future, after a U.S. appeals court ruled today that the coffee company is within its rights to stop employees from wearing too much of the pro-union flare.”

    When are they going to bring back the beating of line work employees? Corporations just aren’t doing enough to ensure their workforce is in check.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      Starbucks should look back to how coal mine owners dealt with union wannabees.

      The Battle of Blair Mountain was one of the largest civil uprisings in United States history and the largest armed rebellion since the American Civil War. For five days in late August and early September 1921, in Logan County, West Virginia, some 10,000 armed coal miners confronted 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers, called the Logan Defenders, who were backed by coal mine operators during an attempt by the miners to unionize the southwestern West Virginia coalfields. The battle ended after approximately one million rounds were fired, and the United States Army intervened by presidential order.

      • Maz says:

        Look at how the OWS thing turned out. And that was non-violent protesting. Can you imagine how our paramilitary police force would respond to an armed insurrection?

  8. bhr says:

    The question (on both sides) is how does this differ from other political speech? If an employee wanted to wear a handful of anti-union pins is that allowed? How about a pin supporting DOMA or DODT? Campaign buttons?

    Unions, for better or worse, are political organizations, so if a company can’t limit an employee from visibly supporting one cause can they stop them from wearing a button supporting any cause?

    • bluline says:

      I think the company should be able to prohibit any and all pins, buttons, stickers, or whatever on their uniforms during work hours.

  9. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    A drink maker/cashier is an “Industrial Worker of the World”? LoL.

  10. coffee100 says:

    Let’s just call it what it is, folks. In the United States, you have no legal right to collective bargaining. Doesn’t matter what the law says. You’re not allowed to unionize and companies are within their rights to oppose your efforts in any way they wish with absolute impunity.

    That about wrap it up?

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      What does that have to do with Starbuck’s requiring a uniform that limits the number of buttons that can be worn? They are a private company and have the right to have a dress code/uniform. They have done nothing to keep a union from forming. Allowing them one button shows they aren’t too against it. Your argument is really going to a ridiculous extreme.

      • coffee100 says:

        > They are a private company and have the right to…

        Do whatever the hell they want, like stop employees from forming a union.

        • OSAM says:

          Nowhere does the decision say they can’t form a union. It says they can’t wear pins. There’s a huge difference.

          Dont be so stupid.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      If only we had it that good. Unfortunately, we continue to live in a society wallowing in the worthlessness of unions, up to our eyeballs.

      Dog forbid you have to retain your job because you’re, you know, worth keeping.

  11. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    Riiiiight. Because controlling the image your employees present to the public they continually interact with is equivalent to removing all workers’ rights. They should be able to wear any pin they want.

    Pin: I Sell Pot on the Side – OK!
    Pin: My manager is a flaming homo – OK!
    Pin: Starbucks Sucks Ass – OK!

  12. DrPizza says:

    1. I thought that after Office Space, it would be impossible to take anyone wearing “flair” seriously.
    2. They’re baristas. Definition of barista: someone who majored in a completely useless subject in college, has a useless college degree, and needs a job. Because of that piece of paper, has an over-developed sense of self-worth, thus feels entitled to tips for performing the same job duties as a 16 year old kid at McDonalds.

    • YOXIM says:

      They may be self entitled but they have nothing on you. Do yourself a favor and re-read your post. It makes you sound like a fucking douchebag.

    • coffee100 says:

      Oh, I’m sorry. Didn’t graduate, huh?

    • matlock expressway says:

      “… has an over-developed sense of self-worth”

      I thought that only people with an over-developed sense of self-worth accuse people of having an over-developed sense of self-worth. Or is there some other reason why you’re up in arms over this?

  13. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    They should have a right to require a uniform, which includes on one piece of union flair. If you don’t like the rule, get a job somewhere else.

  14. shepd says:

    More proof unions have nothing at all to do with safety, pay, or working hours–but rather have only to do with promoting themselves and their line of bullshit.

    I’d have just closed down that starbucks. The entire chain if I had to. As an owner, I would never deal with a union, and I’d just exercise my right to close up shop.

    • coffee100 says:

      Unions are a response to asshole managers. Stop being an asshole, and there won’t be a need for a union.

      • shepd says:

        Stop having assholes run unions and there’ll be no need for asshole managers.

        I’ve worked in union and non-union shops. I can tell you, without a doubt, the company with the union works hard to pick the most asshole managers possible so they can actually get work out of the employees. Happened to my dad, too, who had the misfortune of spending a lot of time working for the CAW (I’d say working for Budd, but that’s a lie–when you work for a unionized company, you work for the union). Always asshole managers. Even asshole team leads, which was amazing, since they were under the union.

        I’m in a non-union shop now. The managers aren’t all the brightest bulbs, but they sure are a heck of a lot nicer, and the quality of work done proves it.

    • drjayphd says:

      …and THAT’S why you’re not rich enough to buy and sell sports teams like Pez dispensers.

      • shepd says:

        The largest companies in Canada are non-unionized companies. Not sure about the US, but then again, I’m not working there, so, to be truthful, I don’t care. The largest companies in my field are almost exclusively non-union.

        Why would I want to be #3 when I could be #1? Or, in my field, somewhere around #99 when I could be within the top 10?

        In fact, if you want to be an employee, the best companies in Canada to work for are overwhelmingly non-unionized.

        Unions are just as bad for employees as they are for companies. Their job is to protect union interests, not employee interests. A union would rather put you on strike because they dislike the government (happened to my Dad several times) or because a factory thousands of miles away has an issue (happened to my Dad several times), or they’d rather take your money to feed further beefs they have with the company (happened to me when I had a grievance that was successful–they knew I was leaving the company the next month after and never paid out).

        Working for a union is working for a government that you can’t elect. Oh, unions have elections, they say. Try participating in them as a third party. My dad did that. Had his car destroyed for doing it. He still felt it was worth proving the point that union supporters are nothing but mobsters–ESPECIALLY the CAW/UAW.

        • matlock expressway says:

          The best advice obviously comes from someone with an axe to grind.

        • Amp says:

          I’m not posting to contradict your personal experiences with the highly-politicized Auto unions, but I’d just like to point out that Canadian protections for employees are much stronger than those in the United States.

          Unions aren’t as much of a priority if someone’s already protecting your rights, with abusive concepts such as “at-will employment” no longer a concern. Knowing that you can be tossed on your ear in a heartbeat, without cause or severance, is enough to make any professional employee that’s already heavily invested in their trade consider the benefits of enrolling in a group that might back them up.

          I understand it’s still relevant to your point, and that you were using it to show, “unions aren’t needed” but you’re leaving out the rest of that sentence – And I think that’s being lost on the other posters. You may as well have pulled out a study that said Canadians spend less money on health insurance, so nobody in the US needs to buy health insurance: You’re talking about an obsolete system that’s only still running because no one’s bothered to upgrade yet.

          • shepd says:

            Despite Ontario law having minimums, my non-union employer has chosen to go above and beyond that in my employment contract. My union employer did no such thing.

            I maintain, especially with the list of best places to work being mostly non-union places, that non-union employment is the best employment. I would love to see proof that the best places to work (either by employment enjoyment or by company income and therefore stability) are unionized, but it doesn’t seem to exist.

            My axe to grind is simply because most union supporters can’t seem to give even as much proof as I have done. The best they can do is spew out “Weekends, brought to you by unions” or “8 hour workdays, brought to you by unions” and other citationless propaganda.

  15. Cosmo_Kramer says:

    File this under “duh”

  16. Branden says:

    Industrial Workers of the World? serving coffee is industrial work?

    • drjayphd says:

      The IWW is kind of a universal union. Individual workers can join even if they’re in a non-union line of work, or if they’re in another union. Or, as we’ve seen, if you’re in semiotics, a musician or an MMA fighter.

  17. CrazyEyed says:

    Let me get this straight. They went to court over a Fu*king pin? Union employees, get over yourself.

  18. T&J says:

    Next time you see the union pin, just them you recognize their right to unionize and that their employer probably pays a fair negotiated wage and that is why they do not need to get a tip from you.