Workers across 100 Starbucks stores will strike today (Mar. 22) to welcome new CEO Laxman Narasimhan, and remind him of where his priorities should lie.
Starbucks Workers United’s action will involve several unionized stores across 40 US cities, Bloomberg reported. The protest, a day ahead of Starbucks’ annual general meeting tomorrow (Mar. 23), is meant to spotlight the company’s alleged anti-union retaliation.
In November 2021, a store in Buffalo, New York, became the first Starbucks location to vote to unionize. Several other stores followed suit, but as unionization efforts picked up, employees reported an increase in attempts to squash them.
The company raised pay for workers at non-union stores. It closed cafés where workers wanted to unionize. A bunch of policies—dress code, attendance, leave, covid log, free food item and beverages while working—started getting implemented more strictly, especially for workers trying to organize. At times, the beverages giant would shift staff and schedules to dilute union votes at certain stores. Covertly, management would drop in unannounced to keep an eye on union talk, and overtly, they’d give targeted speeches against joining unions. And where unionization won the vote, the company put off bargaining.
“Thousands of workers who unionized their stores across the country deserve a real seat at the table and we’re going to keep fighting until we get that seat,” Philadelphia barista Lydia Fernandez, who is striking, told Bloomberg.
For its part, Starbucks denies allegations of suppressing unionization efforts as “categorically false” but recently, a National Labor Relations Board ruled otherwise. Will the company’s new leadership change the tone on workers’ rights? Former CEO Howard Schultz was openly critical of unions, butNarasimhan’s views on the matter are still not public knowledge.
The workers’ rights vote at Starbucks’ annual general meeting
A group of investors led by New York City pension funds submitted a shareholder proposal urging the company to conduct a labor rights audit. Starbucks has asked people to vote against it, but the shareholder proposal has won supporters. Among them, Allianz Global Investors, which declared on Mar. 6 that they will back the proposal at the annual meeting.
Starbucks unionizing efforts, by the digits
9,000+: Total number of Starbucks cafés in the US
293: Starbucks US stores that were unionization won the vote
81: Complaints US National Labor Relations Board regional directors have issued against Starbucks, accusing the company of breaking the law to shut down organizing efforts
235,000: Total number of Starbucks employees, or “partners” as the company calls them. A majority work at the company-operated stores
49: Baristas and shift supervisors who signed an August 2021 letter kicking off unionizing activity at the coffee chain
More than two dozen: Workers who suffered retaliation that affected their compensation, such as a reduction of hours, to whom the company has to give back pay and damages
62: White-collar Starbucks employees—40 named and 22 anonymous—who signed an open letter on Mar. 1 saying the company was “not listening to partners.” They took issue with the company’s January mandate asking workers to return to office three days a week, and its alleged union-busting
Mapped: Union votes won and lost across Starbucks stores
Quotable: New Starbucks CEO must reconcile with workers
“His [Narasimhan’s] number one task is kind of mending the fences and building the bridges,” —Stephen Zagor, principal, Steve Zagor & Associates.
One more thing: Howard Schultz will be grilled by Congress
“A multi-billion dollar corporation like Starbucks cannot continue to break federal labor law with impunity. The time has come to hold Starbucks and Mr. Schultz accountable,” senator Bernie Sanders tweeted on Mar. 1, when he called for a vote to subpoena ex-chief Schultz to testify in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in an upcoming hearing on Starbucks’ compliance with labor laws.
Schultz agreed to participate a day before the vote took place. He’ll “provide a deeper understanding of our culture and priorities,” Starbucks’ general counsel Zabrina Jenkins said in a letter.
🔥 Starbucks’ union-busting tactics are facing the heat
🕴 Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has stepped down earlier than expected
👊 Can Starbucks fight unionization without damaging its pro-worker image?