The latest efforts deployed by the Seattle coffee giant have been described widely by the Barista’s working there as ‘spying’. There’s another term that I think might be more appropriate, however; Guerrilla Warfare.
The company appears to be deploying quite sophisticated and coordinated tactics to frustrate the unionisation effort on the one hand and do a charm offensive on the other.
Take the example of a store in New York which had just raised the question of unionising and filed for a vote. An employee of the store was required to attend a company meeting about unionisation.
The employee was told that the meetings were mandatory, and he duly attended the hotel where the meeting was being held to find he was the only one present. There were six Starbucks managers present, who spent the next hour explaining how the employee would be better off outside of a union.
I can personally say that I tend to look at things from a pro-business viewpoint. I happen to believe that good business and happy employees are not mutually exclusive. But in this case, it does look like Starbucks is engaging in unethical business practices.
For example, sending text messages to employees used to be reserved for emergencies, but now it is being used for the company’s propaganda. That’s invasive and betrays the trust the workers put in the company when they provided a home mobile number – for emergencies!
But that’s not all the company is doing. They appear to have a coordinated strategy with managers swooping on stores that declare an interest in having a union.
As soon as the baristas publicly announced they wanted to have a union, corporate executives swarmed into the stores to try to stop them with threats, promises, store closings and overwhelming pressureRichard Bensinger, an organiser with Starbucks Workers United.
Even though the store had unanimously voted to Unionise, the company increased the voting number from 21 to 46. Illegal? Apparently not, but clearly not how the voting procedure was designed.
Because the voting is at the store level, a branch that votes to unionise is then closed, and the employees are transferred to other locations. Some stores that file to hold a vote on unionisation are shut to be remodelled – even if they have just had a remodelling. Sometimes more than once. Those stores with interest in having a union are suddenly sent a flock of managers to ‘assist’. But the sentiment is that they are there to spy and find faults that could be used to dispose of troublesome characters.
I don’t support all Unions, but some fill critical roles in balancing power. In the U.K., the National Teachers Union (NUT) and in the U.S., the Union for Librarians (AFSCME) come to mind. But, if anyone was making a case of why Unions should exist in modern society, Starbucks is making that case.