Starbucks' CEO sends employees a make-nice letter as union voting winds down

The communication from Kevin Johnson promises collaboration between headquarters and cafe staff members. It also pledges to increase staffing and deliver on new benefits.

With less than two days to go before Starbucks learns if three stores in Buffalo, N.Y., will become union shops, CEO Kevin Johnson sent all employees a letter asserting the company regards them as active partners in moving the brand forward during extraordinary times.

The communication speaks to the stated desire of the union advocates in Buffalo to secure a louder voice in the concept’s direction through organizing. It also addresses their contention that stores had been understaffed and underappreciated until the unionization began weeks ago and awakened management to less-than-ideal conditions.

“Macro challenges have created even more pressure for our stores, and all of you,” Johnson wrote. “We have heard you, and we are making progress on the toughest obstacles – increasing recruiting staff across the U.S., hiring 5,000 new partners each week, investing an unprecedented $1 billion in wages, training, and hours, deploying new equipment and technology and continuing to support leaders in markets across the country.

Johnson’s letter follows weeks of extended visits to the Buffalo market by high-level Starbucks executives, including North American President Rosanne Williams. Employees of stores there say the presence of so much brass was intended to intimidate them into voting “no” on forming a union at each of the three units.

Organizers have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal government’s unionization watchdog, that alleges management is engaging in union busting.

Johnson directly addressed the situation in Buffalo in his communication. About 100 employees of the three stores will have until the end of Dec. 8 to cast their votes. The results are scheduled to be revealed midday on Dec. 9.

Johnson wrote, “While we recognize this creates some level of uncertainty, we respect the process that is underway and, independent of any outcome in these elections, we will continue to stay true to our Mission and Values.”

Three other Starbucks stores and a unit in Mesa, Ariz., have filed petitions with the NLRB to request a union vote within their cafes. The agency has yet to air responses to the requests.

“What can you expect going forward?” Johnson wrote. “First, we will work each day to exceed the expectations of our partners as you, in turn, create that great Starbucks Experience for our customers.

“Second, we will always be transparent and authentic – even when we need to have tough conversations. And finally, you can trust that while we are on this journey together, we will always be one Starbucks.”

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