Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has a history of opposing unions

On March 22, 2022, a pro-union poster was spotted on a lamppost outside the Starbucks Broadway and Denny locations around Seattle’s Capitol Hill.

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During the first week of Howard Schultz’s presidency of Starbucks, cafes owned by seven more companies combined to bring the total to 16.

But those who are union members at Starbucks will have to demand a tough response from the company. Schultz, who oversaw the coffee company’s growth from a small Seattle chain to a global behemoth, has a long history of opposing unions.

Whether Schultz will accept a new playbook at a time when workers feel emboldened by rising wages and a tight labor market is not yet clear, but his latest actions and words may provide some clues.

On Monday he announced that the company would suspend the withdrawal of shares to invest in its stores and employees, but on the same day at the town hall where the workers were, he reiterated his confidence in the company’s team approach to labor management.

“I am not anti-union. I am a supporter of Starbucks, the partner, the Starbucks culture,” Schultz said. “We did not come here to keep a union.”

Both organizers and labor experts expect the company under Schultz’s leadership to step up efforts to curb labor motivation.

“I think they will redouble their anti-union efforts and do everything they can,” said John Logan, a labor professor at San Francisco State University.

Starbucks, under former CEO Kevin Johnson, has already faced dozens of complaints of union breakdown from Labor United, which has filed dozens of complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB has also accused the company of retaliating against pro-union workers in Phoenix. Starbucks has denied the allegations.

Johnson approached relatively publicly, leaving most of the effort to North American President Rosen Williams. But it was not Johnson, Schultz, who came to talk to the barristers when the Buffalo and New York areas began the union drive last year.

To date, more than 180 company-owned sites have filed petitions for union elections, although this is only a small part of Starbucks’ overall U.S. trail of nearly 9,000 stores. Where votes were counted, only one hotel opposed the union.

Schultz’s union opposition

Howard Schultz, former president and CEO of Starbucks, and 2020 US presidential candidate, met Fox & Friends on April 2, 2019 at Fox News Channel Studios in New York City.

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Schultz’s position against the unions dates back to his early days at the company. In his 1997 book “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time” co-authored with Tory Jones Yang, Schultz described the company’s first trade union war when he was director of marketing.

The growing company, then led by CEO Jerry Baldwin, bought Beats Coffee and Tea in 1984. According to Schultz, the acquisition sought to consolidate as the cultures of the company collided. He wrote that some Starbucks workers began to feel neglected, so they distributed a union petition because management did not respond to their demands. The union won the referendum.

“This incident taught me an important lesson: there is nothing more precious than a relationship of trust and trust that a company has with its employees,” Schultz wrote. “If people believe that management does not share the rewards fairly, they will feel alienated. Once they begin to distrust management, the future of the company is compromised.”

Schultz left Starbucks shortly after discovering his own espresso chain, Il Giornale, and its initial success led him to buy Starbucks and merge the two companies. In “Poor Your Heart Into It”, Schultz described the Starbucks retail workers’ union as a successful “barista for itself”.

“When many of our people supported disqualification, it was a sign that they were beginning to believe that I would do what I had promised,” he wrote. “Their distrust began to dissipate and their morale soared.”

But Starbucks employees at the time and union representatives at the time backed away from the story. In a 2019 Politico article linked to Schultz’s political belief, Dave Schmidts, organizer of the local United Food and Trade Union Confederation, said in the 1980s that Starbucks had filed a disqualification petition.

At the time, Schultz did not respond to requests for comment on the political statement.

On top of that, Schultz often drew on the benefits of the coffee chain, such as health care for part-time employees, as part of a broader belief that treating employees well would benefit the company as a whole. According to Politico, those benefits are part of a trade union agreement with Starbucks.

“Under my leadership, I firmly believe that employees will realize that I will listen to their concerns. If they have faith in me and my intentions, they do not need a union,” Schultz wrote.

Schultz will step down as CEO in 2000, and the financial crisis of 2008 boosted Starbucks’ business. When he served as the leading global strategist of the Middle Ages, barristers in Manhattan sought to unite. Starbucks successfully thwarted this attempt, but an NLRB judge finally ruled in 2008 that the company had violated federal labor laws.

When he was second in command as CEO in 2016, Schultz reportedly invited a California barista who spread a union petition.

Two years later, Schultz stepped down from his active role at Starbucks. The following year, he publicly considered running for president as an independent centrist, but his potential candidate failed to generate enthusiasm.

The epidemic changed things

While Schultz was outside, Starbucks and its barristers suffered an epidemic that changed how many workers felt about their jobs and their own power. In August 2021, Starbucks workers in Buffalo filed a petition to join the NLRB under Workers United.

Now that Schultz is back in the spotlight, attitudes around the unions have changed drastically. The Gallup poll from September 2021 shows that 68% of Americans recognize trade unions – the highest reading since the 71% approval rating in 1965.

Every union victory at the Starbucks Hotel has given more impetus to the union drive, and other top successes at Amazon and REI have further stimulated the movement.

“[Starbucks and Amazon] I think the old anti-union campaigns that have always worked in the past will work this time around, but I think they have found in some cases that it is no longer true, “said Labor Professor Logan.” I did not. One of these union campaigns may have been successful two or three years ago, but something has changed. “

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