updated 8/7/2006 4:54:11 PM ET 2006-08-07T20:54:11

Starbucks Corp. has fired the co-founder of a union claiming to represent employees at six of its Manhattan coffee houses.

Daniel Gross, a barista and organizer for IWW Starbucks Workers Union, a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, said Monday that he is challenging his termination, which followed a company investigation into an allegation that he made a threatening remark to a district manager at a recent union rally.

Gross, who has led union organizing efforts at Starbucks for the past three years, countered that he was simply making a statement of solidarity when he told District Manager Allison Marx that a fellow employee should not be fired.

Gross, 27, said the IWW filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday alleging he was wrongfully terminated.

"By terminating me on Saturday, Starbucks has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's an anti-worker, anti-union company," Gross said in a phone interview from New York City on Monday.

Starbucks confirmed Gross no longer worked for the company but would not comment on the circumstances that led to his firing.

Valerie O'Neil, a spokeswoman at Starbucks' corporate headquarters in Seattle, insisted the company does not discourage union organizing. "We don't retaliate against anyone who tries to organize or be part of a union," she said.

The world's largest specialty coffee retailer, which is often lauded for offering generous benefits that include health insurance for part-time workers, contends there are no unionized Starbucks stores in the United States.

And while the IWW Starbucks Workers Union has not been formally certified under the National Labor Relations Act, it claims to represent dues-paying members who have bargained for certain job improvements, including pay raises.

Gross refused to disclose how many members the union has, saying only that it's a "modest-sized group" with "positive membership growth."

In March, Starbucks settled an unfair labor practice charge the union filed with the NLRB, accusing the company of violating federal law by creating a national policy prohibiting workers from sharing written union information or wearing buttons.

The company admitted no wrongdoing in its settlement, but was forced to post at three stores named in the complaint detailed notices explaining workers' rights to organize. It also offered two workers their jobs back and gave three employees back pay totaling less than $2,000.

Gross said he is the fourth IWW member at Starbucks who has been fired in the last year. One day in mid-July, Gross said he joined a protest on behalf of a shift supervisor who had been threatened with termination _ and later fired _ over an altercation with a co-worker.

In addition to claiming that Gross made a threatening remark at that protest, Starbucks gave Gross an unfavorable performance review the day it fired him, saying he failed to communicate employee morale issues to his store manager, including complaints about wages and work hours, Gross said.

O'Neil said she could not confirm whether that was one of Starbucks' reasons for firing Gross but did verify that one of the "core competencies" it requires of its employees is that they help store managers create a positive work environment.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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