Starbucks Workers Organize
Published Oct. 21, 2023
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is currently investigating Starbucks for union-busting activities and has charged Starbucks and their notoriously anti-union law firm, Littler Mendelson P.C., with 513 counts of unfair labor practices. The NLRB has identified at least 80 people who have been confirmed to be threatened or fired for engaging in protected union activities. Despite this union-busting activity, over 8500 workers at more than 340 Starbucks locations have joined Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) The NLRB has filed complaints against Starbucks for bad-faith stall tactics with unions and for withholding new benefits from unionized stores, such as credit-card tip screens during check-out. On February 23, a federal judge in Michigan ordered Starbucks to rehire a union activist who was fired from an Ann Arbor location to discourage unionization (National Labor Relations Board). This is the twenty-second worker that Starbucks was court-ordered to rehire.
On March 23, 2023, Starbucks workers organized a nationwide strike and protest to bring attention to Starbucks’ illegal union-busting and negotiating tactics in response to the recent Starbucks unionization wave. Over a hundred stores went on strike and protesters converged outside of Starbucks Corporate Headquarters in Seattle to send a simple message to shareholders: “No contracts, no coffee” which was a demand to end bad-faith stall tactics in negotiations with SBWU. The shareholders voted to conduct a third-party audit of Starbucks’ adherence to labor law (Reuters).
Starbucks claims to support workers’ right to engage in legal union activities, but Starbucks and Littler Mendelson P.C. have stymied and dispersed negotiations to exacerbate their resource advantage over the union (Bloomberg Law News). Starbucks has insisted that they negotiate separate contracts for every store, negotiated in person. Littler Mendelson P.C. has the resources to fly negotiators to over 340 separate negotiations, while Starbucks Workwer’s United is unable to have negotiators travel across the country, and the union has suggested hybrid negotiations. In response, Starbucks has filed over 100 Unfair Labor Practice charges with the NLRB against SBWU since October 2022, but the NLRB has not found merit in any of these complaints.
Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO at the time, was subpoenaed by Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to appear in a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on March 29, 2023. Bernie Sanders alleged that Starbucks had engaged in “egregious and widespread misconduct” (NYTimes). Democrats highlighted Starbucks’ labor misconduct by interviewing members of Starbucks Workers United, Starbucks’ labor union, who shared stories of threats and firings. Republicans on the committee and Schultz responded by attacking the integrity and motives of the NLRB.
On the same day as the hearing, shareholder votes regarding the third-party audit of Starbuck’s labor practices were counted, and the audit was approved. Following the hearing, Howard Schultz stepped down as CEO two weeks ahead of schedule; Laxman Narasimhan took his place on April 1, 2023 (NYTimes). Narasimhan, a former McKinsey consultant, and Pepsi-Co executive sent a letter to Starbucks employees, but it did not address the labor movement. Narasimhan underwent barista training, and he pledged to work in Starbucks stores as a barista a half day a month. Labor groups have called this performative stunt inadequate. It remains to be seen how Narasimahan will change the nature of SBWU’s work.
You can get involved with helping plan SBWU’s next customer day of action on September 14th by signing up for the planning meeting on Zoom here. You can find further updates @SBWorkersUnited on Twitter or at their website, https://sbworkersunited.org/, where you can donate or buy merchandise.
By Theodore Zarobell