November 28, 2021

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Starbucks asks federal labor board to change the rules in its favor in upcoming union vote


That move comes as part of a broader barrage of anti-union activity from Starbucks management. On Saturday, the company closed its Buffalo stores during a talk by former CEO Howard Schultz, giving workers the completely voluntary chance to attend the talk, in which Schultz offered veiled anti-union messaging, including a questionably appropriate story about the Holocaust. In recent months, corporate also sent extra managers to the stores, supposedly to help make sure things were running smoothly. Go figure, they made workers feel surveilled and intimidated. 

At one of the three stores where all 20 of the existing workers wanted a union, there are now 46 workers eligible to vote on the issue. While workers had complained of understaffing, that is an effort to overwhelm pro-union workers, not to respond to worker complaints.

A recent visit to a Starbucks near the airport, where workers have filed for a union election, turned up at least nine baristas behind the counter but only a handful of customers,” The New York Times’ Noam Scheiber reported in October, while a worker told him, “Even if you’re just trying to run to the back to grab a gallon of milk, you now have to run an obstacle course to fit between all the folks who have no real reason to be there.”

In October, amid both the union effort and a competitive environment for retail and foodservice companies looking for workers, Starbucks announced a pay increase to a minimum of $15 an hour with an average of $17 an hour by next summer.

Even if you don’t count that pay increase as part of the anti-union effort—and it did come as other companies were making similar moves—Starbucks is just pouring money into keeping workers from unionizing. Add it up: They brought multiple corporate managers into Buffalo. They brought Howard Schultz in and closed stores while he was speaking. They have moved workers around and hired more workers to dramatically increase staffing at one of the stores. They’re making a last-minute attempt to change the rules of the election. It’s reasonably safe to assume that lurking somewhere in the background is an expensive anti-union consultant or law firm.

Worker organizing and worker power-building are terrifying Starbucks. It’s pushing back hard, using many of the tried-and-true union avoidance tactics that corporate America has honed over decades, trying to squash the union effort before it can get off the ground and spread. Now the NLRB will decide whether the company gets its last-minute rules change. 


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