Microsoft Outlook Fail Screws Up Latest Starbucks Union-Busting Effort

The caffeine giant missed an important filing deadline by eight minutes because it didn’t understand how Outlook attachments work.
Starbucks workers march in support of unionization.
Yuki Iwamura / Getty Images

For much of the last several years, Starbucks Corporation has been engaged in a ham-fisted effort to crush fledging unionification efforts among store employees. But the company’s latest effort to undermine such efforts were thwarted by an unforeseen adversary: company lawyers’ inability to understand how Microsoft Outlook attachments work.


Last year, Starbucks employees in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize, triggering a wave of similar efforts across a hundred additional stores, including Starbucks’ hometown of Seattle. In response, the company has employed thirty lawyers from anti-union firms like Littler Mendelson to undermine the push through delays and legal challenges.

Part of that effort involves preventing individual store votes, instead forcing workers to try and unionize under broader regional votes. Union officials say Starbucks hopes this will buy it some additional time to dissuade employees from joining, making the effort easier to defeat.

Not all of these attempts have been going well.

Starbucks lawyers have been trying to convince the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to prohibit individual store unionification votes and mandate regional votes. To do so, they needed to file a statement of position by noon on February 11. But Starbucks lawyers didn’t get the necessary paperwork filed until 12:08 PM.

The reason for the missed deadline? While Starbucks lawyers claim they had all the necessary material for filing ready as of 10:45 AM that morning, they say they weren’t able to submit the filing in time because their Microsoft Outlook client crashed.

“Microsoft Outlook crashed, and counsel was required to restart the application,” Littler Mendelson lawyers explain in a filing to the Labor Relations Board first spotted by The Huffington Post. “Just before noon, counsel attempted to send the complete service email a second time but was again prevented from doing so when Outlook crashed again.”

Starbucks lawyers claim that the “crashes” were because their attachments were too large, and the time it took to compress the attachments into several zip format sub directories caused them to miss the filing deadline, lawyers claim.

Microsoft Outlook limits file attachments to 20 megabytes for online versions, and 10 megabytes for enterprise Exchange versions. While Outlook will warn users that the attached files are too large, this generally doesn’t cause the program to crash.

The labor board ultimately sided with union representatives who argued that a missed deadline is a missed deadline, and Starbucks should not get an exemption. 

“Having carefully considered the matter, I find that the Employer’s failure to timely serve its Statement of Position precludes it from litigating any of the issues raised in its untimely Submission,” NLRB Regional Director Linda M. Leslie said in an order.

The ruling allows individual store unionification votes to move forward in stores ranging from Mesa, Arizona to upstate New York, and sets a precedent making it difficult for Starbucks to employ the same objection in the future. That lawyers for the American caffeine and sugar water giant were bested by ordinary, well-documented file attachment limitation also likely bodes well for future unionification efforts.