Starbucks' union critics drop their demand for seats on the company's board

The move is the latest sign that relations are thawing and contract negotiations may soon begin.
Union adversaries offered another olive branch. | Photo: Shutterstock

The union collaborative pushing for three seats on Starbucks’ board of directors has withdrawn its nominations, citing the truce that was struck last week between the coffee chain and the labor group striving to organize the beverage brand.

The move amounts to a vote of trust that Starbucks will negotiate in good faith with Workers United, which now represents the staffs of 386 green-awninged cafes. It may also further smooth the path to new labor contracts for the 9,500 unit-level Starbucks employees represented by Workers United.

The withdrawal of nominations also follows separate recommendations from two well-known shareholder advisory groups that Starbucks stockholders vote to keep the unions’ nominees off the board.

Starbucks has invited Workers United to finalize all the labor agreements for members of its Starbucks Workers United division by the end of 2024. To date, not one has been hammered out. Instead, the parties have turned to courts and federal regulators in a nearly three-year public battle. The legal wranglings have extended all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The back-and-forth was suspended last Tuesday by what was essentially an agreement to work toward an agreement. Starbucks and Workers United pledged to negotiate a framework for beginning the collective bargaining process.

“As was widely noted, this agreement represents a potentially ‘huge shift’ in Starbucks’ labor relations strategy and a major step forward for all involved,” the union collaborative, known as the Strategic Organizing Center or SOC, said in announcing the suspension of its drive for board seats.

In response, Starbucks issued a statement reading, “We appreciate the decision announced by SOC today. Our Board’s focus remains on driving long-term value for all stakeholders, including partners, shareholders, customers, and farmers.We look forward to continuing to work alongside our partners as we fulfill our mission together.

Workers United’s parent organization, the Service Employees International Union, is one of the three unions that make up the SOC. Its sister groups are the Communications Workers of America and United Farm Workers of America.

Negotiating labor contracts for unionized Starbucks stores promises to be an arduous task. Workers United has been organizing the chain unit by unit. The National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, ruled early on that each cafe should be treated by Starbucks as an individual collective-bargaining unit, meaning a contract would have to be negotiated separately for each one.   

Starbucks executives say the chain has asked at least 500 times for meetings with representatives of Starbucks Workers United or its parent group. The parties convened in at least 100 instances, but the meetings ended before negotiations could begin because of disagreements over the process, according to representatives from both sides. The union has aired its preference for broadcasting the negotiations live to members, while Starbucks has pressed for closed-door sessions, contending discretion is crucial.

“We are truly hopeful that the commitments made and steps taken last week will result in Starbucks returning to the right path, and the Company being able to fulfill its vast potential for all its stakeholders,” the SOC said in its statement.

But, the same announcement states, “We think it’s imperative that shareholders continue to monitor the Board’s performance and Starbucks’ approach to labor relations issues in the coming months – and we plan to continue to hold the Company accountable going forward.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


How Popeyes changed the chicken business

How did a once-struggling, regional bone-in chicken chain overtake KFC, the formerly dominant player in the U.S. market? With a fixation on sandwiches and many more new restaurants.


Get ready for a summertime value war

The Bottom Line: With more customers opting to eat at home, rather than at restaurants, more fast-food chains will start pushing value this summer.


Inside Chili's quest to craft a value-priced burger that could take on McDonald's

Behind the Menu: How the casual-dining chain smashes expectations with a winning combination of familiarity and price with its new Big Smasher burger.


More from our partners