Howard Schultz
Source: Getty

Howard Schultz at the New York Times DealBook/DC Policy Forum in June 2022.

Is Howard Schultz a Union Buster? All About Starbucks CEO

Kathryn Underwood - Author
By

Aug. 15 2022, Published 10:36 a.m. ET

As the longtime CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz has ruffled plenty of feathers through his comments about unions. The CEO who built Starbucks into the largest global chain coffee shop has made disparaging comments about unions and excluded unionized Starbucks locations from pay raises. Is Schultz a union buster?

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Schultz is known for his opposition to unions after years of comments and corporate actions that didn't support unions. In June, Bloomberg Law reported that Schultz essentially stated he would never accept unions during a public interview. He called the union a “third party” and claimed that customer experiences would be harmed by having unions.

Starbucks alleges vote tampering in the Kansas City area.

Starbucks recently claimed that there was misconduct in the union voting process in the Kansas City area, CNBC reported. The company claimed that an NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) professional acted as a whistleblower and asked that all union votes be moved to in-person while investigating claims of vote tampering.

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Starbucks drink
Source: Starbucks Facebook

Starbucks workers have been aiming to unionize, while Schultz seems bent on squelching those efforts.

Starbucks has taken a number of anti-union actions.

According to Bloomberg Law, the coffee chain is facing numerous complaints filed by unions with the NLRB. Nearly 200 petitions had been filed between August 2021 and June 2022 accusing Starbucks of violating federal labor law. CNBC updated that figure to 284 as of Aug. 15.

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Starbucks’ decision to provide pay raises to workers at non-unionized stores could be seen as union busting. Schultz’s public comments indicating he wasn't open to unions could be problematic for the company. The NLRB has in the past found executive comments to be labor law violations.

Anne Lofaso, a labor law professor at West Virginia University, said that Schultz’s comments are clearly a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. She called it a “core violation of the act when an employer suggests something could be futile.”

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Howard Schultz claimed unions wouldn't be necessary if employees trusted him.

In the 2012 version of Schultz’s biography, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, he made comments attempting to show that employees should simply trust his leadership rather than forming unions.

As Reuters reported, the biography read, “I was convinced that under my leadership, employees would come to realize that I would listen to their concerns. If they had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn’t need a union.”

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Other past remarks made by Schultz have consistently pointed toward his anti-union beliefs. He said on Morning Joe in 2019 that unions were formed because of companies with bad leadership. “Unions arrived on the scene because companies were not doing the right thing for their employees,” stated Schultz.

Sbux strike
Source: SB Workers United FB

Workers went on strike at Seattle Roastery in July.

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Some believe recent closures of 16 Starbucks stores may have been an anti-union move.

When the company announced in July it would close 16 Starbucks locations in certain areas, it said the move was due to safety concerns. Issues such as drug use and disruptive behavior in those neighborhoods were cited as the reason the company decided to close those stores.

Quartz.com noted that the decision happened to close several stores that had recently unionized or were in the process of holding a union vote. Two Starbucks locations in Seattle slated for closure had recently formed unions, and one in Portland was preparing for a vote. Union leaders claim the actions were in retaliation for having unionized.

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