In a labor struggle pitting a handful of low-paid baristas against a multinational corporation with deep pockets and political connections, Starbucks is calling foul. 
The coffeehouse chain has asked the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) to temporarily halt union votes until allegations of election misconduct are investigated. In a letter sent to the NLRB, the company said an unnamed career employee of the agency is "aware of documents outlining with specificity a concerted effort to tip the scales in voting to favor the Union in a Kansas City area (Overland Park) store election."
Organizers, meanwhile, said the charges are not likely to stick and expressed a feeling of disbelief that Starbucks is taking this approach. 
"It's beyond belief, really," Richard Bensinger, a union organizer with Starbucks Workers United and a former organizing director of the AFL-CIO, told Cheddar News. "It's bizarre." 
Workers at the Kansas City location voted 6-1 to form a union back in April. The company contested the results, and the NLRB is set to review the election Tuesday. 
So far, workers from 314 U.S. Starbucks stores have petitioned the NLRB to hold union votes. More than 220 have gone ahead with elections, and 189 have actually formed unions.  Amid these efforts, Starbucks has been pushing back against unionization.  
Indeed, the company is facing its own set of allegations of meddling in the election process. The NLRB in May accused Starbucks of committing more than 200 labor law violations since organizing efforts ramped up last year. 
Now Starbucks is tossing down the rule book as well. 
"It’s important to protect the rights of every partner and ensure the integrity of the election process," Starbucks said in a statement. " We believe every partner engaged in a union representation election should trust the process is fair, their voice and vote are considered, and that the final outcome is true and accurate."
According to the letter, the alleged NLRB employee has evidence of the agency "secretly coordinating" with union agents to allow voting at agency offices and providing confidential information regarding vote counts to organizers, among other charges. 
Casey Moore, a barista in Buffalo, N.Y., and an organizer for Starbucks Workers United, said the allegations fit a pattern from Starbucks. 
"Starbucks has done this time and time again, where they grasp at legal straws in order to delay or try to distract from other issues," she said. "This is by no means a problem, and it's actually quite an absurd letter." 
She added that the NLRB has "huge discretion" in running union elections and that she does not believe the company has a real case.   
Other companies have similarly challenged the union election process and the NLRB's role in ensuring fair results. 
"This sounds like a replay of what Amazon tried to do with the certification at JFK8, where they concoct a theory without any reality to block certification votes," said Seth Goldstein, an attorney for the Amazon Labor Union, referring to the recent successful effort by warehouse workers in Staten Island, N.Y., to unionize. 
Throughout its letter to the NLRB, Starbucks points out that the agency should be neutral in its dealings with organizers. Goldstein rejects this view. 
"Their statutory duty is to protect the act, but they are not a neutral agency," he said. "They are an agency that protects collective bargaining rights, and oftentimes employers seem not to understand that." 
Goldstein said the legal challenges from companies fit into a broader campaign by companies to undermine labor law and the agencies that enforce it. 
In addition, multiple organizers pointed out that they saw a similarity to this situation and former President Donald Trump's denial of the 2020 election results. 
"Frankly, it's the same reason that you have people like [Trump] trying to overturn the election. It's being a sore loser. It's a bad look for the company, honestly," said Casey Moore.