Starbucks denies new employee benefits to unionized workers during bargaining

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A file photo shows a woman holding a frappuccino at a Starbucks store inside LAX Airport in Los Angeles. On March 22, 2023, the frappuccinos and lattes stopped flowing at more than 100 unionized U.S. Starbucks stores as workers walked off the job in protest against alleged unfair labor practices. (OSV News photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

With so many high-visibility negotiating wins grabbing headlines during what experts dubbed the “hot labor summer,” observers could be forgiven for concluding that a universal union renaissance is underway in America.

Not quite.

When coffee giant Starbucks on Nov. 6 rolled out new employee benefits — including pay raises, earlier vacation accrual and more flexible scheduling — it also announced that workers at its unionized stores will not be entitled to those benefits while collective bargaining is underway.

Starbucks management asserts it’s unlawful to do so — a claim rejected by both Workers United and the National Labor Relations Board.

Daniel Graff, director of the Higgins Labor Program at the University of Notre Dame”s Center for Social Concerns, remarked, “Starbucks has become the poster child for the service sector employer — the labor-intensive sectors — that say, ‘We cannot have a unionized workforce; we cannot imagine any kind of reallocation of power that’s going to result in some reallocation of the surplus; some reallocation of the income to our workforce.'”

“And they’re a poster child, then, of breaking labor law,” Graff commented, “and showing how American labor law really has no teeth.”

Hundreds of violations of employees’ rights

As Mother Jones magazine — which takes its name from the moniker of Irish-born American labor activist Mary G. Harris Jones — observed in a September article, “Union leaders say this has become a staple of the Starbucks playbook: If it can’t keep a store from unionizing, it can certainly slow-walk any progress toward an actual contract.”

The unionized stores — approximately 360 out of 9,000 — have participated in a “two-year period of significantly increased organizing activity and public approval of unions,” reported Mother Jones. “Not one of those Starbucks locations has achieved a contract.”

The NLRB has cited Starbucks for hundreds of violations of the National Labor Relations Act, noting in March of 2023 its “egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights.”

“It’s heartbreaking to read the coverage in the press of these workers who … found life and purpose in trying to organize their workplace, to make it better,” said Graff. “They don’t even dislike Starbucks — or they didn’t when this all began. They wanted to be part of making that company better.”

Kimberley Heatherington

Kimberley Heatherington writes for OSV News from Virginia.