In Reversal, Starbucks Proposes Restarting Union Talks

The company said it's committed to reaching labor agreements next year.

Advocates for a Starbucks employees union at a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, March 29, 2023.
Advocates for a Starbucks employees union at a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, March 29, 2023.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

Starbucks said Friday it's committed to bargaining with its unionized workers and reaching labor agreements next year, a major reversal for the coffee chain after two years fighting the unionization of its U.S. stores.

In a letter to Lynne Fox, the president of the Workers United union, Starbucks Chief Partner Officer Sara Kelly said the current bargaining impasse between the two sides "should not be acceptable to either of us." Kelly asked to restart bargaining in January.

"We will set as an ambition and hopeful goal the completion of bargaining and the ratification of contracts in 2024," Kelly wrote in the letter.

In a statement distributed by Workers United, Fox said she is reviewing the letter and will respond.

"We've never said no to meeting with Starbucks. Anything that moves bargaining forward in a positive way is most welcome," Fox said.

Workers United said the last bargaining session between the two sides was May 23.

Saturday marks the two-year anniversary of a Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, voting to unionize. It was the first company-owned store to join a union in more than three decades.

Since then, at least 370 company-owned U.S. Starbucks stores have voted to unionize, according to the National Labor Relations Board. There are about 9,600 company-owned Starbucks stores in the U.S.

Workers at 19 U.S. Starbucks stores have filed petitions with the NLRB to decertify the union as the bargaining representative at their stores, but none of those stores has voted on whether to remove the union. The NLRB can delay a decertification vote if an employer refuses to bargain.

Unionizing workers say they're seeking higher pay, more consistent schedules and more say in issues like store safety and workload during busy times. Seattle-based Starbucks has said its stores run more efficiently if it can work directly with its employees and not through a third party.

But the process has been contentious. Twice, federal courts have ordered Starbucks to reinstate workers who were fired after leading unionization efforts at their stores. Regional offices of the National Labor Relations Board have issued 120 complaints against Starbucks for unfair labor practices, including refusal to bargain and reserving pay raises and other benefits for non-union workers.

In October, Starbucks sued Workers United in federal court, demanding it stop using the name Starbucks Workers United for the group organizing its workers after that group posted a pro-Palestinian message on social media. Workers United countersued, saying Starbucks defamed the union by suggesting it supports violence. Starbucks said Friday that lawsuit is proceeding.

Starbucks said Friday that its changing stance reflects its wish to support all of its employees. In her letter to Fox, Kelly pledged that the company would respect bargaining participants and refrain from disparaging conduct or language.

But Starbucks may also be shifting its position for business reasons. It reported record revenue in its fiscal fourth quarter, which ended in September, and its full-year revenue climbed nearly 12% to $35.9 billion.

But the company's stock has fallen 10% since Nov. 16, when 5,000 workers at more than 200 unionized Starbucks stores went on strike., an analytics company, said that after a strong fall, U.S. holiday visits to Starbucks appear to be down from a year ago.

The company may also be trying to head off an effort by the Strategic Organizing Center, a labor group, to elect three pro-union candidates to Starbucks' board of directors next year.

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