Union Lobbying at a Starbucks Store: The Second Large-Scale Starbucks Strike in the U.S. on Red Cup Day
This is the second major strike in a month by Starbucks’ U.S. workers. On Nov. 17, workers at 110 Starbucks stores held a one-day walkout. Starbucks gave customers a chance to reuse their cups on Red Cup Day.
The process has been contentious. According to the National Labor Relations Board, Workers United has filed at least 446 unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks since late last year, including that the company fired labor organizers and refused to bargain. The company, meanwhile, has filed 47 charges against the union, among them allegations that it defied bargaining rules when it recorded sessions and posted the recordings online.
“We respect our partners’ right to organize but believe the best future is created directly with partners and not a third party,” company spokesman Reggie Borges said in a statement.
Over the years, Starbucks has cultivated its image as a progressive company, an image that Schultz himself helped establish by offering employees health insurance, tuition reimbursement and company stock.
(Many baristas cite tipping as a central issue in their demands, because unlike at many cafes and dine-out restaurants, credit card machines at Starbucks do not allow or prompt customers to add tips.)
“We do not have the same freedom to make these improvements at locations that have a union or where union organizing is underway,” Schultz told shareholders at the time.
The company has posted flyers about these new benefits in back rooms of stores, including unionized ones. It’s hard to say what good news is for workers because of the muddied messaging. New workers at stores that are unionized are questioning the point of a union.
“They get a little angry because they’re like how come we’re not getting the benefits?” says Gailyn Berg, who works at a unionized Starbucks.
Berg, who uses the pronoun “they,” was transferred to the Falls Church Starbucks location after leading a failed union drive at another Starbucks store 10 miles away. Since then, turnover at the new store has been high. A lot of the original union supporters went to work for other jobs after the election. They’ve been replaced by newcomers who don’t know much, if anything, about the organizing effort.
Berg was torn by the thought of having to unionize them all. They had embraced that attitude earlier in the year. But they haven’t abandoned the fight.
“We’re scared. We’re terrified,” says Jasmine Leli, a barista and union leader in Buffalo, N.Y. “We just want to go to work like everybody else and do our jobs and not have to worry [about] when the other shoe is going to drop.”
A federal judge in western Tennessee ordered the company to reinstate the seven workers. Starbucks said that those who were fired had violated company policies, and that they disagreed with the judge’s ruling.
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“The penalties for breaking the National Labor Relations Act are quite weak, and that’s a huge problem because it doesn’t really serve as a deterrent,” says Rebecca Givan, associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. “Employers decide that it’s just worth it to break the law because the consequences are fairly mild.”
“They don’t seem to really care about us at all,” Berg says. Howard Shultz seems very busy trying to continue doing what he does, and not acknowledging the fact that he has lost faith in many of us that really believed in him.
The company is moving in the correct direction and now Schultz is preparing to leave once again. Starbucks announced that they had a new CEO in place and he would take over in spring of next year.
So far, the labor disputes haven’t appeared to dent Starbucks’ sales. Starbucks said in November that its revenue rose 3% to a record $8.41 billion in the July-September period.
“We’ve been planning for months,” says Leli, who sits on the committee and has worked to gather input from thousands of employees around the country. “We want to make sure everyone feels seen and heard.”
Tori Tambellini, a former Starbucks shift supervisor and union organizer who was fired in July, said she will be picketing in Pittsburgh this weekend. Tambellini said workers are protesting understaffed stores, poor management and what she calls Starbucks’ “scorched earth method of union busting,” including closing stores that have unionized.
In November, a month before the successful vote to unionize, he published an open letter to employees. He said that no partner has ever needed a representative to obtain things they have as partners at Starbucks. I am sad and worried that someone thinks that is needed now.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee requested that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz testify in the upcoming hearing on the company’s compliance with labor laws. Schultz declined, and Starbucks announced that its chief public affairs officer AJ Jones II will attend instead.
When Schultz re-joined the company last year, he spent months visiting with employees as part of a listening tour that helped him develop a new roadmap for the company, which he said had “lost its way.”
Some decisions were made that I would not have made during the swine flu, he said. The training programs will be resumed in 2022, said the spokesman.
Rebecca Givan is an associate professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.
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“I’m sure there’s a large number of people who are interested [in unionizing], but afraid,” she said. Many workers are interested in organizing or being represented as a group, from general polling data. She said that this is true among younger workers.
“As a CEO, he responded very typically in how strongly he was opposed to the union,” Givan said. She believes that every corporate leader will take it personally when their workers organize.
Schultz said he did not think China was an enemy of the US but that it was a fierce adversary. In his opinion, there need to be “good, solid geopolitical relations between the Chinese government and the American government.”
Starbucks exited the country last year because of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and Schultz doesn’t see the company ever going back. “I think Starbucks is gone from Russia for good,” he said.
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There is an expectation that the US economy will have a soft landing. “I have great confidence in the US economy,” he said. I don’t see a recession. He believes that inflation has peaked.