As Starbucks Workers Organize, Corporate Ramps Up Union-Busting Tactics

Rachel Curry - Author
By

Aug. 15 2022, Published 11:58 a.m. ET

In May, Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) instituted a pay raise for all non-unionized workers. At the time, the move felt eerily like union busting. Now, Starbucks’ tactics to stave off employee organization are getting more obvious.

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As for the global coffee chain’s latest union-busting tactics, a union vote blockade and employee termination are top of mind.

Starbucks’ latest union busting attempt is blocking the union election.

On Monday, Aug. 15, Starbucks announced that it’s investigating misconduct from union members at U.S.-based storefronts. In a letter to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Starbucks accused the NLRB of manipulating union votes, a factor that would make any union election results illegitimate.

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While Starbucks announced its own investigation, the NLRB says its election challenging protocol is firm. According to NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado, “The regional staff — and, ultimately, the Board — will carefully and objectively consider any challenges raised through these established channels.”

Whether or not the challenge is actually a form of union busting rests on the outcome of the investigation.

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Starbucks, on the other hand, wrote, “If the NLRB does not respond by investigating and remedying these types of actions, we do not see how the Board can represent itself as a neutral agency adjudicating unfair labor practice disputes — and elections — in a manner that is fair, honest, and proper, without the appearance of impropriety.”

For now, the question remains: Is the NLRB really complicit, or is Starbucks seeking desperate measures to combat widespread unionization?

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A Starbucks union leader got fired in upstate New York.

Near the origin of the Starbucks union journey in Buffalo, N.Y. sits Tonawanda, a historic railroad town. At Tonawanda’s local Starbucks cafe, a manager fired a union leader for Starbucks Workers United. The entire staff staged a walkout in response to the termination, and a video of the event garnered 23.9 million views as of Aug. 15.

Prior to being fired, the employee — named Sam Amato — worked at Starbucks for 13 years. Amato said to reporters about the event, “I strongly believe I was fired in retaliation for being a union leader. The reasons Starbucks gave me were made up. [...] They said I modified the store’s operations without permission. That is not true.”

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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz touts anti-union rhetoric.

In April, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz called union organizers within the corporation “a new outside force that’s going to dictate or disrupt who we are and what we do.”

Unions are not new — workers founded the National Labor Union in Baltimore in 1866 — and union members aren't an outside force. In fact, the very definition of a union is that it’s an inside force, seeking to protect laborers who are critical to the company’s operations but often taken advantage of or improperly protected and compensated.

Schultz’ claims of improper action remain vague, and employees continue to fight what appears to be union-busting tactics directly targeting those on the organizing lines. As of mid-July, 190 Starbucks locations across 30 states have unionized. For Schultz and the rest of the Starbucks headquarters, the unionization threshold may already have come.

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