Starbucks speaks out on unionization, spelling out some of the downsides for employees

In the first chainwide public communication in nearly two months, the coffee giant gives its partners some food for thought.
Photograph: Shutterstock

With about 88 stores now looking to unionize, Starbucks has spoken out about the situation for the first time in months, laying out points it recommends that employees consider if their unit should vote on organizing.

The main part of the website posting, a collection of frequently asked questions (FAQs), is far more of a factual review than a push for nay votes. The coffee giant acknowledges that it’d prefer if employees voted against unionizing, but without impugning the movement or its proponents.

“We don’t believe having a union will meaningfully change or solve the problems you’ve identified in your stores,” the company says in the post. “We know we aren’t perfect, but we believe our challenges are best addressed by working together.”

It raises a number of potential negatives that typically aren’t stressed during union organizing drives. For instance, it notes that employees of a unit that votes to organize will have no choice but to be recognized by the union. “There is no opt-out,” the post reads.

It goes on to add, “Starbucks would be prohibited by law from directly dealing with partners over their terms and conditions of employment. Under the National Labor Relations Act, Workers United would become your ‘exclusive bargaining representative’ and you’d have to rely on them to speak for you on important issues … regardless of full-time or part-time status.”

The communication also reminds employees that they would need to pay dues if they wished to continue working at their store, and that the money goes to the union for its upkeep, not to the workers.

Significantly, Starbucks flatly states that the force behind the organizing push is Workers United, one of the nation’s major unions, and “not a group of ‘partners for partners.’” It stops short of pointing out that Workers United is an affiliate of Service Employees International Union, the nation’s second largest union.

The communication notes the rights of the union to promote its cause, even if the effort feels heavy-handed. Harping on the benefits of unionizing even after the listener has asked the speaker to stop “can be annoying but still be a legally protected communication.

“You’re hearing from union organizers, and you should hear from us too,” the post says in explaining why the information is being provided. “We also encourage you to do your own research and get all the facts.

In addition to the FAQs, the post includes a "listicle," "10 Things to Know About a Union," and a how-to guide for voting.

The chain had not posted any comment or update on the union drive since publishing an open letter to employees on Dec. 20, or right after a store in Buffalo, N.Y., voted to unionize.

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