Union backers spent nearly $2.5M to infiltrate Starbucks, report finds

The study undercuts assertions that Starbucks Workers United was a grassroots reaction of frustrated baristas.
Starbucks was infiltrated by compensated "salts," a study shows. / Photo: Shutterstock

Newly unionized Starbucks employees have yet to negotiate any increase in pay, but a new study shows their organizers have already collected more than $2.4 million from an established union for infiltrating the coffee chain.

The finding by, a website that reports both the triumphs and failures of the labor movement, counters the assertions of pro-union baristas that they came up with the notion of organizing on their own. In their account, a few employees in Buffalo, N.Y., decided to unionize because they were frustrated by management’s unwillingness to factor their input into strategic decisions for the Starbucks brand.

In reality, reported Tuesday, U.S. Department of Labor filings show an affiliate of the powerful Service Employees International Union hired what are called salts—workers who join an organization specifically to talk up the benefits of unionizing and to jumpstart the organizing process.

When the staffs of three stores in Buffalo revealed their intention in August 2021 to unionize, representatives told Restaurant Business and other media that they had never even spoken with anyone from SEIU or its affiliates, and flatly denied any connection.

Yesterday’s report stated that one of those staff members, Jaz Brisack, received just under $69,000 in 2021 from an SEIU affiliate called Workers United and more than $67,000 last year.

In total, the report stated, 41 people were paid a total of $2,472,058. In addition to the salts, the recipients included consultants and veteran union organizers. Not included in that tally are legal expenses that Workers United is known to have paid for its new Starbucks affiliate, Starbucks Workers United.

The report followed an announcement from Starbucks on Friday that all 250,000 employees of the chain’s 10,000 units in the U.S. and Canada will participate in a two-hour meeting with their managers. The get-togethers are intended to foster team cohesion and provide an opportunity for crew members to air their ideas for the brand, the company said.

The meetings, which began Monday, are scheduled to be held through May 8.

The effort is an early initiative of new Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan, who took over that job from longtime brand champion Howard Schultz on April 1.

Since organizing began in Starbucks in mid-2021, about a half-dozen regional coffee chains have voted to unionize, as has one unit of Chipotle Mexican Grill. About 300 Starbucks stores are now union shops, according to the latest tally by the National Labor Relations Board.

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


Pipedream wants to take restaurant pickup underground

The startup uses robots and tunnels to move food from kitchen to car. It believes it can one day connect entire cities.


As CosMc's takes off, McDonald's operators want a piece of the action

The Bottom Line: But where that action should take place is the question. Many operators believe the brand should be a testing ground for McDonald's own beverage program.


Bad weather returns as a restaurant sales problem

The Bottom Line: Snow and cold in January kept customers from visiting restaurants. Here's why this might be a bigger influence in the future.


More from our partners