The besieged coffeehouse giant still remains the biggest organizing story out there. Granted, the story’s focus has shifted away from the trickle of unionizing stores – still slightly under 300 Starbucks cafes of the total 9,000 U.S. number – and towards the legal tactics employed by federal judges and the NLRB, both of which aim to force the company to embrace Starbucks Workers United.

The clash grows uglier by the day. Workers also continue to be frustrated at the lack of overnight results at the bargaining table, despite the process generally taking a year or longer. Lawmakers are now growing vocal, and that includes Democratic Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez (of New Jersey), who expressed concern at how their state’s unionized cafes still don’t have a contract, 6-10 months after the fact.

Progressive socialist Bernie Sanders, as well, is a driving force against Starbucks, and that conflict bumps up against how CEO Howard Schultz exited his position two weeks early and formally handed off to incoming CEO Laxman Narasimhan.

Schultz, who returned as CEO a few months after Starbucks Workers United began their nationwide campaign, might be out, but the trouble is not over for him:

  • After Sanders’ threat of a subpoena, Schultz will testify on March 29 before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In doing so, Schultz will be grilled on the company’s response to organizing and a lack of union contracts. One can expect lawmakers to bring up the company’s firing of union organizers and closure of some cafes that happen to be unionized.
  • A Starbucks shareholders’ meeting on March 23 will include a vote on a proposal about whether an independent assessment of the company’s labor policies and practices, including alleged wrongdoings, is warranted. An investor coalition and the NYC Comptroller are asking shareholders to vote for this examination to “provide shareholders with necessary transparency regarding management’s adherence to Starbucks’ human rights commitments.”
  • A pre-resignation Schultz sat down for a CNN interview, in which he admitted that Starbucks had “lost its way,” although he believes that the organizing wave is due to younger employees being “frustrated by the status quo” due to a “macro issue here that is much, much bigger than Starbucks.”

Schultz will remain on the Starbucks board, and the company’s woes continue. Amid many other ongoing legal proceedings, these stick out for obvious reasons:

  • An NLRB judge delivered a 200-page ruling, in which he ordered Starbucks to rehire a group of organizers and reopen a shuttered store in Buffalo, New York. In doing so, the judge accused Starbucks of “egregious and widespread misconduct” in their treatment of union organizers. Further, the ruling ordered Schultz to appear at the store for “a reading of employees’ rights and distribute a recording of the reading to all of Starbucks’ U.S. employees.”
  • A federal judge in Michigan did reel back his sweeping injunction that prohibited Starbucks from firing union organizers on a nationwide basis. Instead, the judge limited the injunction to apply to a solitary Michigan store with an instance of one worker who claimed that she was illegally fired for organizing.

Adding insult to injury, baristas welcomed the new CEO with strikes at about 100 cafes Wednesday morning.


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