Starbucks’ hidden Agenda against the union-workers

The president of the union that organizes Starbucks shops has a message for the coffee chain: come to the bargaining table – and just one table, not hundreds.

The Workers United union has been trying to negotiate initial contracts for the more than 300 Starbucks shops that have formed a union since late 2021. But since those shops have gradually unionized, the coffee chain has insisted that each shop negotiate its own contract.

Lynne Fox, the union’s president, told HuffPost that the workers wanted to consolidate talks so they could move forward if an agreement was reached. Workers had not made any progress with the company, despite many of them having unionized more than a year ago, she said.

“The fastest way to get this done is to have a national framework at the table and negotiate these universal issues at the same time,” she said.

Fox said Starbucks should agree to a broad contract that would include a national minimum wage, “fair scheduling procedures”, guaranteed minimum working hours and an agreement on future union elections. Regions and individual shops could then enter into additional agreements if they wished.

However, Starbucks said Workers United should limit itself to negotiating individual contracts, as the union has organized one shop at a time.

“This is a deliberate attempt to distract from Workers United’s failure or inability to negotiate for nearly 300 individual shops that they have successfully filed and enforced with Starbucks,” Andrew Trull, a company spokesman, said in an email. He added that the company has made progress on a contract with workers at a single Pennsylvania shop who joined the Teamsters last year.

None of the roughly 9,000 Starbucks shops in the US had union representation until Workers United began organizing them in 2021. As groundbreaking as the electoral successes have been, the hardest part has always been negotiating a first contract. On average, it takes well over a year for a new union to negotiate a contract, and in many cases, unions don’t get their way due to litigation and delays by employers.

“I’m so proud of these workers. I really admire them. I think they’re shocked that the company they love is treating them so viciously.”

– Lynne Fox, president of Workers United

Prosecutors at the National Labour Relations Board have accused Starbucks of a host of unfair labor practices, including refusing to bargain with workers at 163 shops. The NLRB office in Washington has already ruled in one case that Starbucks unlawfully refused to bargain with workers at its Reserve Roastery in Seattle. Prosecutors also allege that the company violated the law by insisting that workers bargain in person, rather than with a zoom option as proposed by the union.

“They have not agreed to any of our proposals, nor have they made a counterproposal,” Fox said. “The company has had 15 of our core proposals for seven months. They have not agreed to a single line or a single sentence or done anything in opposition.”

Starbucks said it had proposed “more than 423 bargaining sessions at individual shops” but that the union had set preconditions for those sessions, such as remote bargaining for workers, which the company would not agree to. The company claims that bargaining over Zoom is tantamount to recording the meetings.

“We believe that face-to-face bargaining is not only required by law, but also leads to the best outcomes for our partners,” Starbucks said.

On Tuesday, Fox sent a letter to Starbucks’ legal counsel, Zabrina Jenkins, urging the company to make serious efforts to reach a nationwide deal. “Starbucks has engaged in increasingly outrageous delaying tactics that amount to an unacceptable denial of your 8,000 workers’ right to contract negotiations,” she wrote.

Fox pointed out that former CEO Howard Schultz said during his recent testimony before the Senate that the simultaneous negotiation of so many contracts had created “significant complications and obstacles in the collective bargaining process”.

Schultz blamed the union for the problem, pointing out that Workers United had requested elections on a branch-by-branch basis, rather than on a regional basis as Starbucks had proposed. The union would have had less chance of winning larger elections as this would have diluted its support in branches that are strongholds.

“We now have to be put in a position to bargain over individual shops across the country and schedule individual meetings,” Schultz lamented.

Starbucks, however, does not have to negotiate the contracts separately, but could negotiate them in a national setting to speed up the process and reduce the number of lawyers involved. The company decided against this.

“I can only speculate [about Starbucks’ motives], but my guess is that the company wants to intentionally complicate and drag out the process,” Fox told HuffPost. “If you want to negotiate in good faith, this is not the way to do it”.

Starbucks workers strike outside a shop in Brooklyn on November 17, 2022.

In reality, a company in Starbucks’ position has little incentive to reach an agreement that might encourage more shops to organize. Employers can drag out the process to undermine overall union efforts and make workers believe that unionizing would be a waste of time. It is illegal for an employer to bargain in “bad faith”, but the penalties for doing so are notoriously light.

Trull stressed that the company had been bargaining in good faith all along. “We remain committed and willing to negotiate in person,” he said.

The union’s influence at Starbucks grows with each shop it organizes – Workers United has won 315 elections, according to the NLRB, or 81% of the elections held – increasing the chances that the union will force Starbucks to a single bargaining table to reach an agreement. However, the pace of organizing has slowed since the beginning of 2022, and the union will have to work hard to hold on to the shops it has already organized.

Workers at three unionized branches in New York have recently filed petitions to vote the union out of those workplaces, although it is not clear whether those efforts will succeed. This is another incentive for employers to delay a contract – the workforce changes and union supporters are replaced by union opponents.

Fox said the union had anticipated such struggles from the beginning.

“I’m sure that was part of the grand plan,” she said of Starbucks. “That people would move on, that there would be turnover or that people wouldn’t be able to make a living and would have to leave to find another job. We are prepared for that.”

NLRB prosecutors have filed 94 complaints against Starbucks accusing the company of illegally firing union supporters, closing shops where workers were organizing and withholding wage increases from unionized workers, among other charges.

So far, administrative judges have ruled that Starbucks violated the law in at least 14 cases.

“I am so proud of these workers. I really admire them. I think they are shocked that the company they love is treating them so viciously,” Fox said. “Starbucks could have used this moment to really be a leader in the industry and really appreciate its employees, but they just didn’t.

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