(Adds comments from company, union; adds details of NLRB dispute)
By Hilary Russ
NEW YORK, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp on Tuesday lost its bid with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to delay a union election at three of the coffee chain's locations in Buffalo, New York.
Workers received ballots in the mail in November and began sending them in. The NLRB will count them up on Thursday, but the company had tried to delay the tally with its objection to parts of the election process. The NLRB decision means that a vote count will go forward.
A union win at any U.S. Starbucks location would be a blow to the company's image as it has touted itself as a progressive, worker-friendly employer.
It could also spur workers at more locations to organize, especially in a tight labor market that has forced restaurant chains to increase pay and benefits in an effort to attract more employees.
When asked for comment, Starbucks referred to remarks released earlier Tuesday by Chief Executive Officer Kevin Johnson, who addressed employees in a letter.
"We respect the process that is underway and, independent of any outcome in these elections, we will continue to stay true to our Mission and Values," he wrote.
Richard Bensinger, an organizer with Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks baristas and shift supervisors, said in a statement that "the bullying and intimidation by Starbucks will not work." Workers United is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.
Starbucks had contested some election rules. It argued that the NLRB should have allowed workers at all approximately 20 Buffalo area locations to vote in one election, instead of letting each store decide on its own.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Aurora Ellis)