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A month after returning to Starbucks as interim CEO, Howard Schultz announced new benefits, including expanded training, improved sick leave and credit card tips for some 240,000 Starbucks employees in more than 8,800 stores across the country – but not for those who unionize.
“We don’t have the same freedom to make these improvements at sites that have a union or where union organizing is underway,” Schultz said during a conference call with shareholders Tuesday.
Starbucks said all employees, including those at stores that unionize, would receive wage increases first announced last October. On August 1, employees will get either a 3% raise or $15 an hour, whichever is greater, and hourly schedule employers will get even bigger raises.
The announcement comes as more than 230 Starbucks stores have filed petitions for union elections and about 50 stores have voted to join the national Workers United union since December, making it one of the largest labor campaigns in America. .
Schultz hinted that Starbucks could decide to exclude unionized stores from the new benefits in comments to store managers during a video call in mid-April. At the time, he said he had just learned that Starbucks is not allowed by law to offer new benefits to a store that voted for a union while in the collective bargaining process. .
Workers United called Schultz’s claim “totally misguided” and filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
“Under Section 8(a)(5) [of the Fair Labor Standards Act]employers simply cannot unilaterally implement new benefits during contract negotiations,” wrote Workers United attorney Gabe Frumkin. “Instead, they have to negotiate with the union if they want to implement new benefit programs.
In the filing, Frumkin accuses Schultz of twisting the law by giving the false impression that Starbucks could not even provide such benefits to workers or their union representative. Schultz’s comments had an immediate and profound chilling effect on organizing nationwide campaigns, Frumkin wrote.
Schultz says no union contract matches what Starbucks already offers
The union dynamic at Starbucks has been remarkable, not only because of the astonishing speed at which it has spread, but also because the foodservice establishments are among the least unionized in the country, with just over 1% of the sector. unionized in 2021, according to the Labor Department.
But unlike many other food and beverage chains, Starbucks has long prided itself on being a top employer, offering health care, retirement, stock options and tuition. free to full-time and part-time employees, known as Starbucks Partners. Indeed, the generous benefits and socially progressive culture are a big part of what has drawn many workers to Starbucks, which has some 9,000 stores nationwide.
“Compare any union contract in our industry to the ever-growing list of wages and benefits we’ve offered our employees for decades, and the union contract won’t even come close to what Starbucks offers,” he said. Schultz said during Tuesday’s shareholder call.
While pledging to transform Starbucks, Schultz says outside forces are driving the union campaign
Upon returning to the company, Schultz recognized that Starbucks needed to transform. Over the past month, he’s traveled to different regions to watch what he calls “co-creation” sessions with store workers, known as partners at Starbucks, listening to them about the issues they face at the work as well as scheduling and pay issues.
“It was difficult and emotional at times to hear the challenges and issues partners face,” Schultz told store managers in a video call last month.
But during Tuesday’s shareholder call, Schultz made it clear that he thinks the source of the workers’ grievances may have less to do with Starbucks and more to do with the events that have shaped the lives of workers, from the Great Recession to global pandemic.
“These young people have very valid concerns given today’s uncertainty and economic instability,” he said. “They look around and see in the burgeoning labor movement a possible remedy for what they feel.”
It was a toned down version of comments he made last month, when he spoke of “businesses across the country being assaulted, in many ways, by the threat of unionization” and called the Starbucks union campaign of “new outside force desperately trying to disrupt our business.”
This characterization has annoyed Starbucks workers who say they are leading the organizing efforts in their stores, not some “outside force”.
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Schultz spoke of organizers intentionally and aggressively dividing the company while “attempting to sell a very different vision of what Starbucks should be.” He said he heard stories of employees who did not support the union and who were intimidated into not voting in elections. Pointing to low turnout in store elections, he urged store managers to encourage all workers to vote.
Pushing the “external force” narrative, Schultz could be referring to one particular worker in Buffalo, where the Starbucks labor campaign began. Before landing a barista job at Starbucks in 2020, Jaz Brisack, a Rhodes Scholar from the University of Mississippi, had worked as an organizer with the UAW in Mississippi and with Workers United in Buffalo, where she led an effort to organize baristas at a local coffee chain.
But workers at Starbucks stores across the country say they were inspired by Buffalo baristas, not directed by them. As Workers United attorneys help store workers file petitions for union elections and unfair labor practice charges, workers say they’re the ones who reach out to co-workers across shifts and decide what they want as a store.
Starbucks workers condemn Starbucks’ ‘union busting’ activities
Of the more than 50 Starbucks stores that have held union elections so far, all but a handful have voted to unionize.
An election in Springfield, Va., in April ended in a 10-8 loss, a result Workers United disputes.
Gailyn Berg, a shift manager who led the union campaign at their store, believes Starbucks’ ‘union busting’ activities actually changed the votes, specifically pointing to warnings from managers about what could happen if the store votes to stand down. unionize.
“We’re not going to be able to get raises in the next few months. We’re not going to be able to work in other stores. Our partners certainly believe that,” Berg said.
Berg says those warnings were issued in mandatory sessions between managers and employees, known as captive audience meetings, though Starbucks denies the meetings were mandatory. The National Labor Relations Board decided to ban meetings with a captive audience as an unfair labor practice.
Starbucks denies engaging in illegal union busting, including at other stores where worker organizers have been fired. Starbucks says the workers in question were terminated for violating company policies. The NLRB has filed formal complaints against Starbucks in a few such cases, calling the actions have been of retaliation. In Arizona, the NLRB sued Starbucks to reinstate three workers.