Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Just Vowed To End The Days Of 'False Promises'

The month of April has been marked by several public sightings of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. His recent appearances at Starbucks stores in Southern California, as NPR learned from Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn, were probably attempts to conduct what she called "listening sessions." Talking face-to-face with employees could give Schultz a better idea about what is wrong at Starbucks and how he could address it as a leader — without resorting to unions.

Evidently, Schultz believes he has come to an understanding with workers. Earlier this month, Reuters received a video created by the CEO in which he calls out his company's failure to uphold promises made in recent years. "We are going to make promises that we will keep, promises that are real and going to solve the problems that exist in your stores," Schultz said. What this means in practice, he clarified, is that Starbucks will implement more training, guarantee hours to its workers, and conduct better maintenance of store equipment — issues that he got insight about during "co-creation sessions" with employees.

Schultz has been openly against Starbucks' stores expanding efforts to unionize, calling unions an "assault" on companies in general. His recent talks with workers seem to be his attempt to discourage employees from unionizing by addressing their concerns about the company. "We will become the best version of Starbucks by co-creating our future directly as partners," he wrote in an open letter to the company this month. "However, we must not be distracted by the different vision being put forward by union organizers at some Starbucks stores."

Starbucks seems to be as anti-union as ever

Though Schultz noted in his letter that "the law gives [Starbucks] partners a right to organize," the company is still being accused of union-busting. This month, the National Labor Relations Board filed additional charges against Starbucks, most recently related to the way the company has treated pro-union workers in Arizona, according to the Phoenix Business Journal. The contents of the complaint include allegations that supervisors have used interrogation, coercive statements, and further disciplinary measures against staff for trying to unionize.

The first Starbucks union formed at the end of 2021, but tensions between the company and pro-union employees gained more public attention in March with a video featuring a 19-year-old barista, who was driven to tears after being disciplined at work. The employee asked why, after closing the store all the time and volunteering to clean up, she was being written up for being absent from work due to a hospital stay and death in her family. The write-up came one day after she had handed out informational cards about unionization to fellow employees. The National Labor Relations Board currently has 300 open cases against Starbucks listed on its website.