Starbucks’ anti-union effort in upstate New York becomes a legal concern for the company

Starbucks’ anti-union effort in upstate New York becomes a legal concern for the company

November 26 - 2021 Coffee Geography Magazine

Starbucks’s management instructed baristas to reject the union at mandatory ‘listening’ sessions in upstate New York whose store recently filed for a union election.

A Starbucks barista in Hamburg, New York was told by a manager that he could attend an earlier mandatory anti-union meeting on 8 November because he was scheduled to work early the next day. The meeting was in a hotel which lasted for about an hour.

Numerous anti-union meetings have been framed as listening sessions, but it’s the workers who have been doing most of the listening: the sessions have largely consisted of management presenting anti-union talking points, with little feedback from workers involved.

Six Starbucks stores in the Buffalo, New York, area have filed for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board in recent weeks. If successful, the stores would be the first Starbucks corporate locations to unionize in the US.

Workers have reported numerous captive audience meetings, one-on-one meetings, store shutdowns, closures,  and text messages – a mode of contact that was previously used only for emergencies. Dozens of corporate executives have flooded stores with the intent to deter workers from voting to unionize, workers say.

The former Starbucks CEO and billionaire Howard Schultz visited Buffalo to present a case against unionizing to workers on 6 November and incited criticism for making an analogy to the Holocaust in discussing the company’s mission.

Starbucks Workers United filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB on 4 November over Starbucks’ conduct during the union campaign, which included Starbucks shutting down two stores that are holding union elections and transferring workers to disrupt the voting units. However, Starbucks characterized the closures as coincidental.

According to a December 2019 report conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, US employers are charged with violating labor law in 41.5% of all union elections and spend nearly $340m annually on union avoidance consultants, tactics that labor leaders and many elected officials are hoping to rein in with the Pro Act in Congress.

Starbucks deferred comment to a letter by the Starbucks executive vice-president – North America, Rossann Williams, who noted operational changes in the Buffalo area were a response to operational gaps.

“We care deeply about our partners here in Buffalo, as we do in every market across the country, and we want to preserve our partner to partner relationship,” wrote Williams. “While it is certainly our partners’ right to make their own decision – and one we fully respect – I do hope our partners will give us a chance as they make the best decision for themselves, their families and their fellow partners.”