Starbucks workers protest against union-busting efforts

Employees walk off the job at 100+ stores as activists urge the CEO to support unionization.


Starbucks employees and labour activists held protests outside the coffee giant’s Seattle headquarters on Wednesday, alleging that company executives were trying to undermine unionisation efforts. The organisers claimed that over 100 stores across 40 cities in the US were affected by walkouts, though Starbucks disputed the scale of the action, saying that almost every store remained open. The company did not disclose how many locations had closed, but some stores were still operational with employees who had taken on extra shifts to cover for those who were striking.

The demonstrations, which took place ahead of Starbucks’ annual shareholders’ meeting, aimed to persuade the newly appointed CEO, Laxman Narasimhan, to adopt a more supportive stance on unionisation drives, according to organisers from Starbucks Workers United. The group has urged shareholders to vote for a third party to assess the company’s labour rights policies.

One Seattle-based Starbucks worker, Sarah Pappin, argued that employees like herself were responsible for keeping the stores functioning. She stated in a prepared statement that they are the ones who remember their customers’ regular orders, make lattes, clean spills, and often brighten their customers’ days. She urged Starbucks to acknowledge their right to unionise and engage in negotiations with them at the bargaining table.

Since late 2021, at least 280 of the company-owned Starbucks stores in the US have voted to unionise. However, the company opposes the move, citing its leading benefits package and asserting that its stores operate more efficiently without unions. Meanwhile, labour activists claim that employees struggle to obtain sufficient hours to qualify for Starbucks’ benefits.

Starbucks and labour activists have filed complaints against each other with the National Labour Relations Board. A federal labour judge ruled that Starbucks violated US labour laws hundreds of times during a unionisation campaign in Buffalo, NY, and ordered the company to reinstate seven fired workers. Former CEO Howard Schultz was also ordered to read employee rights aloud and distribute a recording to all US employees.

Schultz has now agreed to testify before a US Senate committee, which is headed by Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, next week. The panel is examining Starbucks’ actions in relation to the unionisation campaign.

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