Starbucks workers take unionization fight to corporate board
Starbucks Workers United

SEATTLE—Starbucks workers, in the midst of their organizing drive at the giant coffee chain, are taking the fight to a new level: The corporate board and its anti-union anti-worker policies.

The workers, in a formal filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, put up three pro-worker advocates for board seats, while also urging Starbucks shareholders to oppose three directors who have been forces, they say, in its union-busting.

The issue will percolate up to Starbucks’s annual meeting on March 13.

That’s when the workers also want the firm’s shareholders to seat former National Labor Relations Board chair Wilma Liebman, former Obama Labor Department official Maria Echaveste, and Josh Gotbaum, a former top official in several federal agencies, including the Labor Department, the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon.

The workers’ key argument: union-busting hurts Starbucks’s image, revenues, profits, share price, credibility in the market place and, of course, the workers themselves.

That’s shown by a wide-ranging nationwide National Labor Relations Board complaint filed against the coffee giant on January 9.

And while the letter doesn’t say so, former CEO Howard Schultz dominates Starbucks and he’s still the largest shareholder. Schultz is so hostile to workers and unions that in a separate case, the NLRB charged him, personally, with labor law-breaking, formally unfair labor practices. He told a barista in California who spoke up against union-busting that, in so many words, go find another job, a firing threat.

It’s also shown by the fact that the workers, starting just over two years ago in Buffalo, N.Y., have voted union at almost 400 Starbucks stores, covering more than 9,000 workers.

Starbucks refuses to bargain with them as a group. It pushes a divide-and-conquer strategy, saying it will bargain store by store and only in secret, not, as the workers want, with everyone observing via Zoom.

In their letter to other shareholders, including institutional investors, the workers, aided by the union-created Strategic Organizing Center, lay out their case for Starbucks to give up the union-busting: It would help not just the workers’ pay and conditions but the firm’s bottom line.

They told the SEC, which regulates corporate boards and annual meetings—among other oversight–that Starbucks has spent an estimated $240 million in the last year on union-busting. As a result, it’s busted its image as a progressive place to work. That’s cut its stock price and its revenues, too.

In a separate action earlier this year, Starbucks Workers United, which is aiding the organizing drive, asked the Labor Department to force Starbucks and its union-buster to disclose their spending or face federal fines.

Starbucks hired wink-wink nod-nod operatives from Littler Mendelson, a Los Angeles-based law firm that advertises itself—to the criminal corporate class—as the U.S.’s largest “union avoidance” firm.

“We believe the current board tolerated an unacceptable level of reputational risk, a counter-productive approach to labor issues, and a flawed allocation of resources,” the workers/Strategic Organizing Center letter to other shareholders continues.

Liebman, Gotbaum, and Echaveste “are ideally suited to repair the relationship with the company’s workers and regulators while safeguarding the best interests of all stakeholders.

“Voting for the SOC nominees will help ensure the status quo does not continue and shareholder value does not suffer as the company’s reputation has.”

The letter cites 130 NLRB citations with 420 charges against Starbucks, more than 1100 complaints of labor law-breaking, and declines in sales and share prices. “Ongoing litigation, labor issues, and staff walkouts” are some of the reasons for the sales and share price drops, it adds.

“The bottom line is this: Until the Starbucks board deals with the crisis that formed under the current directors’ watch, the company will not be able to fulfill its vast potential.”

The letter tells shareholders that Starbucks undertook recent moves to burnish its image, including replacing three directors. The workers’ response is to tell Starbucks shareholders to in essence pay attention “to what they”—directors and managers—”do, not what they say.”

“The NLRB’s ‘largest and most-focused action yet’ was brought against the company on January 9, encompassing nearly 400 stores and charging ‘Starbucks is failing and refusing to bargain collectively with the union.’ While Starbucks may want stakeholders to believe it has seen the light, what we see is an ongoing pattern of disenfranchising employees.”

The Strategic Organizing Center also said in a statement to Reuters that Starbucks “needs to immediately provide full disclosure of the total costs and liabilities” of its anti-unionism “in order for informed voting decisions before the 2024 annual meeting.”

The costs and liabilities include labor law-breaking fines, plus net back pay to workers Starbucks illegally fired. NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo told agency offices last year that “net back pay” should cover all costs workers incur when the boss illegally fires them.

That includes interest on credit card debt used to stay alive, missed or late mortgage and car payments, medical bills, and more, not just the old remedy of net back pay.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.