Starbucks’ home city of Seattle recently voted to unionise employees at the same time Howard Schultz, the founder of the company’s success and iconic status, was re-appointed CEO after Kevin Johnson left abruptly.
During a vote at the National Labor Relations Board, Starbucks employees voted unanimously to unionise in the city where the company is headquartered. The workers at the store voted unanimously 9-0 in favour of unionising, joining a nationwide wave of stores that have organised under the Workers United program.
As the unionisation movement gains momentum, Schultz will need to come up with a new strategy if he wants to change the views of the workforce. The Wall Street Journal reported that one of his goals “is establishing a new tone with the roughly 230,000 workers staffing its U.S. cafes.” However, a change in culture takes time, which I don’t think Schultz has. If he wants to stem further Union adoption, he will need to present workers with more tangible reasons not to unionise.
There are now seven unionised stores, which is a small percentage in relation to the total, but the media coverage has been extensive, and the rest of the branches have no doubt been following the events closely.
The company’s initial tactics were borderline unethical and will no doubt have been counterproductive to their cause, but it’s not too late for the company to pivot if they can find the right strategy and communicate it.
Very little has been said about how employees perceive Schultz himself. However, when the Buffalo store was debating forming a Union, he was criticised for lecturing employees in a patronising manner when he visited.
There is no question that Howard Schultz is a visionary leader and businessman, but is he still in touch with the workforce that the company depends on, and is he, therefore, the right person to formulate a strategy that will win them over?