Starbucks Ghosts Union In Negotiations, Resumes Union-Busting
Starbucks won praise for saying it planned to resume contract negotiations. Nothing of the sort has happened.
Starbucks’ much-hyped plan to strike a deal with nearly ten thousand unionized baristas does not appear to be a significant departure from the way it has handled organizing workers over the past two and a half years.
In early December, the beleaguered coffee giant published an open letter expressing a desire to resume contract negotiations with Starbucks Workers United, which represents workers at more than 385 cafes nationwide that have voted to unionize since December 2021. The letter was addressed to Workers United president Lynne Fox, who replied in a private letter to Starbucks EVP Sara Kelly, the details of which have not been previously reported. Fox asked Kelly for her phone number so that they could begin arranging terms and logistics.
But more than a month later, Starbucks has yet to respond to Fox or anybody else with the union, restricting communication to the various courtrooms and legal filings in which the two sides continue to do battle.
On Friday, the NLRB lodged its latest nationwide complaint against Starbucks, alleging that the corporation has been “failing and refusing to bargain collectively with the union.”
In her December 12 letter to Kelly, which was obtained by More Perfect Union, Fox expressed hope that Starbucks’s outreach was in good faith and “not a publicity move in the face of pressure from partners, Wall Street, shareholders, and others.” Her concern was driven in part by the public nature of Starbucks’ initial letter, which was published in Bloomberg News before it was sent to the union, as well as the company’s growing need for positive headlines.
New Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan faces a daunting number of challenges left for him by billionaire predecessor Howard Schultz, who exited the company last spring after a disastrous year-long return to power. His third stint as CEO, aimed at crushing the union, ended with compelled testimony before the U.S. Senate last March.
More recently, Starbucks has been subjected to boycotts for its shifting positions on the Israeli war on Gaza, experienced yo-yoing sales in China, and is facing growing pressure from investors and activists over its labor practices—both in retail stores and at the farms where the company buys coffee beans.
Some of the proposals in Kelly’s letter to Fox also gave the union pause, though Fox declined to address them in her response. Most prominent was Starbucks’s demand to have negotiators meet in person and eschew the use of Zoom to stream the talks to members who cannot attend the session. That has been a source of acrimony and one of the main sticking points for Starbucks Workers United; with nearly 10,000 workers across hundreds of bargaining units, the union has sought to use teleconferencing to keep members informed about their bargaining sessions.
While avoiding conflict over the proposals, Fox’s letter did ask Starbucks to acknowledge the multitude of illegal firings, unfair labor practice charges, discriminatory policies, and other offenses that have characterized the company’s anti-union campaign since 2021. The NLRB has issued more than 100 consolidated complaints against Starbucks, and the company has been found guilty of breaking labor law on upwards of 40 occasions. Friday’s complaint marks the labor board’s 12th nationwide complaint against the company.
A day after Fox sent her response, Starbucks released a report that claimed that it did not operate based on any specific union-busting playbook. But labor issues continue to mount, with little variance between the violations alleged in each incident.
Unfair labor charges mount
Since Kelly’s letter was published on December 8, Starbucks Workers United has filed NLRB charges alleging unfair labor practices against the company in more than half a dozen states. The allegations include sending workers home for protected speech, tampering with additional elections, and refusing to recognize worker victories at several stores.
In early December, workers at two stores in Massachusetts voted overwhelmingly to unionize. It was the second time that workers at the stores, located in Somerville and Newton Corner, voted to join Starbucks Workers United, after the company challenged the results of the first elections over unit member eligibility and allegations of bias.
Starbucks did not object to the results of the second election within the time allotted by the NLRB but then lodged another legal challenge over the same issue. The litigation is pending with the labor board.
In Rhode Island, Starbucks allegedly sent the entire staff home for wearing union shirts the day after the workers won their election. Starbucks Workers United filed a series of charges against the company, including coercion, illegal discipline, and a violation of their rights as unionized workers.
The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to hear Starbucks’ appeal of a federal judge’s order to reinstate seven workers in Memphis who were fired during their organizing campaign in early 2022. The remaining staff voted to unionize two months later and have been waiting to begin bargaining ever since.
Below is the full copy of Fox’s letter: