Union baristas hit Starbucks with 22 allegations of violating schedule regulations

The accusations, leveled in Chicago and Philadelphia, are part of a wave of stepped-up union activity in recent weeks.
The SWU has stepped up its criticism of Starbucks in recent weeks. | Photo: Shutterstock

In the latest volley of accusations from the union representing 9,500 Starbucks employees, the coffee giant has been accused in 22 filings by baristas in Chicago and Philadelphia of violating the cities’ scheduling regulations.

Both metropolises have what are known as Fair Workweek statutes, or rules prohibiting employers from cutting the hours of hourly workers on what the laws hold to be short notice. The measures are intended to protect workers from suffering sudden drops in their incomes because of unexpected schedule changes.

Chicago’s regulations, for instance, require employers to pay employees a compensatory wage if they change a staffing roster less than 14 days before a scheduled shift is set to begin. The same timeframe applies in Philadelphia.

The allegations filed Wednesday—10 in Chicago and 12 in Philadelphia—follow the 70-complaint barrage that unionized Starbucks workers levied at the company late last year in New York City.  Those accusations resulted in a meeting between the union and Mayor Eric Adams.

Starbucks’ scheduling practices have been a gripe of pro-union baristas since the formation of Starbucks Workers United, or SWU, in Buffalo, N.Y., in August 2021.  

Specifically, the SWU is calling for all baristas to be guaranteed at least four hours of worktime per week, and that any significant changes in an employee’s schedule be reviewed by what the union calls a “joint labor management committee.”

Starbucks executives say the chain is in the process of adopting a new scheduling system that will help to maximize workers’ hours while also factoring in their scheduling preferences, an accommodation they say is necessary because many baristas hold multiple jobs.

“We make every effort and have invested significant resources to ensure partner scheduling practices are in alignment with local Fair Workweek ordinances,” Starbucks said in a statement issued to Restaurant Business.

The complaints were filed in Chicago and Philadelphia by baristas, but clearly with the backing of the SWU. The union announced the actions via its public relations agency, BerlinRosen.

The union has been firing off accusations against Starbucks at a rapid clip in recent weeks. A day before the most recent flurry of Fair Workweek complaints was announced, the union and its agency disclosed that students of 25 U.S. colleges and universities will hold anti-Starbucks demonstrations Thursday on their respective campuses.

According to the media alert, the students will demand that the schools either shut down their on-site Starbucks units because of the chain’s efforts to thwart the SWU, or that the institutions publicly express support for the chain’s unionization.  

"Our partners are at the core of all we do, and we disagree with claims that we’ve let them down," Starbucks said in its statement. "While we remain longstanding advocates of civil discourse, our focus is on fulfilling our promise to offer all partners a bridge to a better future—through competitive pay, industry-leading benefits for part-time work and our continued efforts to negotiate fair contracts for partners at stores that have chosen union representation."

Last week, BerlinRosen highlighted a Politico story that asserted Starbucks did not accurately disclose how much it has spent to date in contending with SWU’s organizational drive. The story indicated that the tally is actually about $240 million.

The blizzard of media alerts and announcements follows Starbucks’ disclosure that it intends to negotiate new labor contracts with unionized stores by the end of 2024. About 386 units have been organized to date.

Because of a ruling by federal regulators, the coffee chain is obliged to negotiate a contract with each store instead of hammering out an across-the-board accord with all SWU members. The company said it has invited union representatives to the negotiating table at least 500 times, but has been rejected in all but about a fifth of those instances.

To date, not a single contract has been negotiated.

Update: Starbucks' comments on the allegations have been added to this story.

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