Starbucks Is Finally Ready To Address Unionization Head-On

For over a year, the corporate overlords at Starbucks HQ have been making broad — and very public — efforts to dissuade employees from advancing their nationwide push for union representation with Workers United. While Starbucks has denied accusations of union busting, the brand is still facing over 200 alleged labor violations from the National Labor Relations Board (per Politico). Namely, the chain has been accused of firing baristas helming union campaigns and illegally denying health benefits and raises to pro-union employees (per PBS), creating what The Guardian calls "a culture of fear" at the coffee chain. 

At a September 13 "Investor Day" presentation in Seattle, Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz unveiled a plan to "reinvent" the chain by tackling both efficiency in its stores and the wellbeing of its disheartened employees. It was the first major sign that Starbucks was willing to come to some sort of an agreement with its pro-union workers, who have been driving record-high turnover rates at the chain lately. This week, Starbucks announced what may be the next step on the road to consensus.

Let the negotiating begin

This week, more than 230 Starbucks stores received letters from HQ that, to some, might look like an olive branch. According to a September 26 statement on its website, the chain is offering the stores (all of which have voted to unionize with Workers United) a three-week window in October to start contract negotiations. "Given Workers United's stated demands and subsequent legal requirements under the [NLRB], Starbucks is required to carry forward bargaining store-by-store and in person, to ensure that all our partners' voices (whether they voted for Workers United representation or not) in the store are heard, and their individual needs and unique situations are fully considered at the negotiating table," writes the chain.

But considering Starbucks' overt opposition to the unionization of its U.S. stores, Workers United has expressed "skepticism" over the negotiation offer, CNBC reports. Union spokesperson Casey Moore told the outlet that several stores contacted Starbucks back in May to begin negotiations, but "received no reply." Moore added that Workers United is currently focusing on "developing core proposals on both economic and non-economic issues to help guide bargaining at individual stores."