LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Starbucks is being accused of illegally shutting down six locations in the Los Angeles area to suppress union organizing activity.
A National Labor Relations Board regional director issued a complaint this week, claiming Starbucks shut down nearly two dozen stores across the country to discourage workers from unionizing.
"It's our legal right to unionize and we're just trying to make the place better for everybody," said Jesse de la Cruz, a former Starbucks employee. "And you have this giant who says, 'We're here for you and you're our partner,' but yet, they're willing to crush us when we want to do something.'
De la Cruz said he was forced to find another job after helping unionize a local Starbucks last year and is currently suing the company.
The new NLRB complaint states Starbucks needs to reopen 23 stores - six of which are in the Los Angeles - and issue back pay to workers who were affected by the closures.
Since two Starbucks stores first unionized in 2021, more than 350 have followed suit. But the coffee giant has consistently fought the labor movement, drawing dozens of court rulings against it for anti-union actions.
"Starbucks claims that they welcome unionization, but it's obvious that they haven't," said De la Cruz. "We are fighting a giant."
Starbucks declined to provide a representative for Eyewitness News to interview, but said the six stores that were closed in the L.A. area were not unionized, and instead were closed for safety reasons.
"Each year as a standard course of business, we evaluate the store portfolio to determine where we can best meet our community and customers' needs. This includes opening new locations, identifying stores in need of investment or renovation, exploring locations where an alternative format is needed and, in some instances, re-evaluating our footprint."
But De la Cruz said the new NLRB complaint shows Starbucks union organizers are making progress.
"Needless to say, it's been brutal," said De la Cruz. "But it's been a good, forward-moving campaign."
The NLRB's finding is far from a final decision. The board will now sit down with both sides to work out a settlement. If a deal cannot be reached, an NLRB judge would then have to issue a decision.
That wouldn't happen until August 2024.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that federal regulators had ordered Starbucks to reopen 23 stores. This has yet to be finalized by a judge. The National Labor Relations Board will sit down with both sides to try and work out a settlement as it seeks to have the company reopen the stores.