The Starbucks Saga Reaches A Slower Yet Still Swirling Phase

by | Oct 27, 2022 | Bargaining/Negotiations, NLRB, Strikes, Union Organizing, Unions

Ten months after the first Starbucks cafe voted to unionize in Buffalo, New York, over 250 locations followed suit, but the flood has slowed, not quite to a trickle but noticeably so.

The New York Times recently acknowledged a third phase of the Starbucks United campaign, in which workers are learning that a union win doesn’t magically lead to a contract or a change in pay or working conditions. The publication follows a two-month strike at that same Boston cafe, where a recent law school grad (who gave up a public defender job for this) hoped to inspire fellow baristas to regain momentum.

LRI’s Phil Wilson recently discussed that same strike with a Boston-based publication, to which he provided analysis about findings that showed how the 24/7 strike didn’t lead to greater benefit for workers. In fact, they only took home 70% of their normal pay (through a local labor council) and went back to work (again, two months later) without any changes to working conditions or negotiations to be found.

One of the potential takeaways of the muted Starbucks saga (and the recent Amazon Labor Union loss in Albany, New York) could be growing worker ambivalence toward unions. At the very least, there’s slightly more worker skepticism by seeing diminishing returns after organizers promise the world in increased wages and benefits. Regardless, plenty of union-related Starbucks developments continue:

  • A Houston Starbucks saw workers strike to protest the firing of a union leader. The company maintains that this particular worker was let go due for violation of attendance policies rather than for organizing behavior. Meanwhile, an NLRB judge ruled that a Michigan barista was illegally fired over her union activity.
  • Tensions remain high with Starbucks workers expressing fears that the coffeehouse giant will retaliate against unionized cafes. As such, the union took to filing at least 325 unfair labor charges against the company.
  • Outgoing Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz might not be helping the messy situation by recently telling Washington Post that organizing baristas are “angry at the world.” Yet to be fair, Schultz only temporarily returned to the job after former CEO Kevin Johnson departed in March with the organizing flood already in motion. Incoming CEO Laxman Narasimhan will fully take over in Spring 2023.

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