four people posing in front of the US district courthouse in Phoenix
Alyssa Sanchez, Tyler Gillette, Laila Dalton, and Bill Whitmire outside of the Sandra Day O'Connor US Courthouse in Phoenix on June 8, 2022. (Photo by Ann Whitmire)

“As far as the struggle for unionization, we will continue. … That’s as strong as ever.” 

A federal judge last week denied the National Labor Relations Board’s request to reinstate two former Phoenix Starbucks workers and reinstate medical accommodations for another worker who says they were given and then had taken away. 

The three workers involved—Laila Dalton, Tyler Gillette, and Alyssa Sanchez—were all leaders in union efforts at the Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard store. 

Each worker alleges the company took action against them for their involvement in organizing.

RELATED: Federal Officials Say Starbucks Engaged in Unfair Labor Practices in Phoenix

The store is one of eight in Arizona that has taken steps toward unionizing. So far, four locations in the state have successfully voted to unionize. 
The Scottsdale/Mayo store had a union vote but did not reach an outcome during the count on May 5—enough ballots to potentially change the outcome were challenged, so a new count will be held following a hearing on the challenged ballots. 

More than 300 Starbucks locations nationwide have filed for union elections.

Laila Dalton

Laila Dalton said company managers displayed a pattern of harassing and disciplining her more than other employees, which she believed was due to her involvement in the union. After multiple warnings, Dalton was ultimately fired on April 4 for recording in the store. 

While Starbucks conceded Dalton did record video of managers in the store with their consent, the company alleged any employee would be fired for leaving a phone recording on the manager’s desk while the employee was not present. Surveillance footage shown in court depicted Dalton doing this. 

Dalton said she told others in the store she was “always recording” at work once the pattern of alleged harassment began, and she did so because she was “scared for my job, my safety, [and] my health.” She said if she had not been targeted for her union activity, she wouldn’t have felt the need to record in the first place. 

Judge John J. Tuchi said he believed the company would have fired any employee for this behavior, and that he did not think Dalton’s union activity contributed to her firing. 

Tyler Gillette

Tyler Gillette, who uses they/them pronouns, had asked managers for medical accommodations for their autism and a sensory processing disorder to continue doing their job. 

Gillette claimed that managers granted certain accommodations, like allowing them to only wear their apron and headphones for parts of their shifts. But Gillette said about a month later, after they became involved in the union, those accommodations were rescinded and they were asked to provide medical documentation.  

RELATED: How Passing the PRO Act Would Change Arizona Starbucks’ Union Efforts

Managers claimed accommodations could only be granted after getting them approved through the company’s partner relations team, and that they never granted accommodations themselves. 

Gillette had a breakdown in the store while working on March 9 after being told to wear their apron and headset, and they went home. They took a leave of absence over the lack of accommodations and returned to the store a few weeks later.

Tuchi denied Gillette’s request for injunctive relief because he believed medical accommodations were never given and therefore could not be reinstated. 

Alyssa Sanchez

The NLRB argued Alyssa Sanchez was forced to leave the store after she was denied a scheduling request to work around her schooling that was previously granted, until management found out about her union involvement. 

While the NLRB said Sanchez’s last scheduling request was made Jan. 25 or 26, Starbucks said Sanchez’s last schedule availability request was submitted on Jan. 10, over a week before managers became aware of union activity. 

Sanchez had a conversation with her manager on Jan. 27 over scheduling and resigned. 

Tuchi said because the schedule request was denied before union activity was known, he did not believe it was retaliation. 

Not the End

Gillette said they wished Tuchi had considered the workers’ situations more when making his decision. 

“I really feel like those of us who are for the union, and those of us who are facing discrimination, weren’t given a proper chance to share our side, share our statement, share why we were there, why we did what we did and said what we said,” Gillette said.

Starbucks said the ruling “is further evidence that any claims of anti-union activity are categorically false.” 

“We respect our partners right to organize, and at the same time we continue to support our local leaders’ decisions grounded in our Mission and Values,” the company wrote in a statement to The Copper Courier.

However, the workers have another chance at getting a ruling in their favor. A trial before an administrative law judge is set to begin later this summer. 

“The status of these workers still hangs in the balance because the NLRB administrative judge could have a different finding than this court found today,” said Bill Whitmire, another union leader at the Scottsdale/Mayo store. 

“As far as the struggle for unionization, we will continue,” he said. “That’s as strong as ever.” 

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