National Labor Relations Board Confirms Presumption that Single-Store Units Are Appropriate

The National Labor Relations Board (Board) recently confirmed that single-store bargaining units are presumed to be appropriate. Starbucks Corp., 371 N.L.R.B. No. 71 (Feb. 23, 2022). The union involved in the case petitioned to represent a unit of Starbucks employees who worked at a single location in Mesa, Arizona. Starbucks, however, argued that the unit instead should include all 14 stores in the region on the basis that nearly 55 percent of the employees at the store had worked at one or more other locations during the prior 2 1/2 years. The company further argued that the various store managers had little autonomy in managing their employees, and that the employees were instead subject to companywide policies and automated management tools.

Rejecting these arguments, the Board held that the petitioned-for single-store unit was appropriate. With respect to employee interchange, the Board noted that the employer’s evidence only reflected how many employees had worked at other stores, and not how often they had done so. Moreover, the union introduced evidence that less than 2 percent of the shifts at the store in question were worked by employees from other locations, demonstrating that interchange among locations was rare. Finally, regarding the issue of store manager autonomy, the Board held that the managers were responsible for enforcing company policies and that the employer’s evidence consisted largely of conclusory statements rather than specific examples.

Normally, such a decision involving application of settled principles regarding the appropriateness of single-location bargaining units would not be newsworthy. However, as we’ve previously noted, the Board is currently considering whether (or, more likely how) to revamp the rules for determining unit appropriateness. Does the Starbucks decision suggest that the Board is having second thoughts, or that it has decided not to change the law? 

Well, we were apparently absent on the day they taught mind reading in law school. But it still seems likely that the Board will substantially revisit unit appropriateness principles in the near future, regardless of the Starbucks opinion. In short, the Board didn’t need to change unit appropriateness principles in the Starbucks case in order to give the union what it wanted. In all likelihood, the Board decided on that basis that the case was not the proper vehicle for changing the law. 

So, as for most things with the Board these days, stay tuned.

TAKEAWAY: While the Board opted not to change the law on unit appropriateness in the Starbucks case, it will likely do so in the near future.