A Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, became the first to be unionised last week in what may be a stinging rebuke to The Seattle Giants management, which had been waging an aggressive campaign to prevent it.

In the end, 27 employees voted in favour and 19 against, and although the numbers are small, it sends a powerful message to the company, which may face similar votes in 8000+ locations across the country.

There was no guarantee of success; it was a case of David vs Goliath, where a few workers rebelled against a giant corporation. However, the company managers argued that working together without a union is better for their employees, whom they describe as partners, and speeds up business.

We want every partner to love working at Starbucks. We will keep finding new and better ways to continue leading on wages and benefits, improve our listening and active partnership, and keep building a company that matters

Rossann Williams, president of Starbucks North America, in a letter to Starbucks employees after the vote.

However, the message might have rung more true if not for the sinister tactics that those same people employed, which were well covered in the press, including here on Bartalks. Despite my aversion to unionisation in developed countries, Starbucks has demonstrated how to erode trust in a master class. According to the union Workers United, a campaign of “bullying and intimidation” was launched by the company.

Starbucks was too clever for its own good. These tactics, such as multiple ‘renovations’ of stores that expressed a desire to unionise, and texting employees’ private mobile phones, fall into the sinister category. Mandatory meetings, sometimes one-on-one, where pressure was applied, is hard to be viewed in any positive light. In Europe, some of the actions taken by the company would be illegal under privacy and human rights law.

The second-largest city in New York state, Buffalo, has had a history of strong support for the labour movement, with a higher percentage of workers unionised than in most other parts of the country.

The company is active in a number of positive projects where they are a force for good. They have stood up for equality, better pay, and promoting education among their employees. But not everything is working as it should, and the company has adopted forceful techniques to close down those concerns when they should have been actively engaged in resolving them.  Now that Guerilla warfare has failed, they should abandon that approach and re-centre themselves around the core principles they say they stand for.


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    Nick Baskett is the editor in Chief at Bartalks. He holds a diploma from the Financial Times as a Non Executive Director and works as a consultant across multiple industries. Nick has owned multiple businesses, including an award-winning restaurant and coffee shop in North Macedonia.

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