Howard Shultz is returning to Starbucks as CEO for the third time. Much has changed during his absence, and the first clashes between the new management and workers have already erupted.

In the food and beverage sector, workers have been unhappy with their working conditions and salaries for years. As the living costs are going up, the salaries remain stagnant, so the appeal for unions has been growing. McDonald’s and Chipotle have seen the fast growth of unions at their stores, and the trend has spread to Starbucks as well, starting in Buffalo, New York, where Starbucks leadership did not greet this movement kindly.

Already before Shultz stepped up as the new CEO, Starbucks had been taking measures to discourage workers from forming unions. The company asked the National Labor Relations Board “to delay the certification of the Buffalo union election results … and to prohibit Starbucks workers from organising their stores individually, arguing that all 20 Starbucks stores in the Buffalo area should be required to vote together. The NLRB denied that request.

Starbucks has engaged in a wide range of union-busting practices, from actively encouraging employees to vote against unionising to allegedly firing workers who were involved with union organising.

Union Organisers

The new CEO will probably not be a good ally for pro-union workers, as he has a long history of opposing them. Schultz oversaw the company’s growth from a small Seattle chain into a global giant, and he said it didn’t achieve this much by having unions. 

Pro-union workers don’t really understand the situation and how unionisation might affect the future.

Howard Schultz, CEO

Mr Schultz said to the US store managers that he is “reviewing the company’s benefits to develop an expanded employee-benefit package in an effort to better recruit and retain baristas.” Starbucks was in the process of buying back its shares, but Mr Schultz suspended this move, saying it would “help the company invest more money into workers and stores.”

The catch is that the expanded benefits would help Starbucks workers, “but that those new benefits legally can’t go to the growing number of stores that have voted to unionise.” It seems that “Federal Law requires separately negotiated contracts for union-represented workers’ pay and benefits, and the company can’t change their compensation unilaterally, Mr. Schultz said, citing Starbucks’s legal counsel.” He added that the pro-union workers don’t really understand the situation and how unionisation might affect the future.

According to Schultz, the company understands and knows best how to address the demands of the pro-union employees and that this can be achieved solely through the company and without unions.

Photo by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube

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