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I'll pay you more if you don't join the union

Given the shortage of labor, Starbucks needs to pay more for help. They can either give that money directly to employees or let union stewards take a cut. For folks that work at Starbucks, that choice seems to be easy (provided the pay is reasonable). Of course if the pay isn't reasonable, they'll work somewhere else?

BTW: Excluding Government workers, almost 1/3rd of US workers in the 1950s belonged to a union. Now the number is closer to 3%.

Starbucks Prepares to Expand Worker Benefits That Might Exclude Unionized Staff

CEO Howard Schultz argues company can provide better benefits without unionization at forum with U.S. store leaders

By Heather Haddon, WSJ

Updated Apr. 13, 2022 6:13 pm ET

Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz is ramping up the company’s campaign against a unionization push in its U.S. stores, saying new benefits being developed for chain employees legally can’t be extended to unionized locations.

In an online forum with U.S. store leaders this week, Mr. Schultz said he is reviewing the company’s benefits to develop an expanded employee-benefit package in an effort to better recruit and retain baristas. Mr. Schultz suspended billions of dollars in share buybacks on his first day returning as Starbucks’s interim CEO last week, a move he said would help the company invest more money into workers and stores.

Mr. Schultz told store leaders that expanded benefits will help reduce attrition among Starbucks workers, but that those new benefits legally can’t go to the growing number of stores that have voted to unionize. Federal law requires separately negotiated contracts for union-represented workers’ pay and benefits, and the company can’t change their compensation unilaterally, Mr. Schultz said, citing Starbucks’s legal counsel.

“People who might be voting for a union don’t really understand, let alone the dues they are going to pay,” Mr. Schultz said, referring to separately negotiated benefits in the internal forum, a copy of which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Nearly 200 of Starbucks’s 9,000 U.S. corporate stores have petitioned for union elections since last year. The National Labor Relations Board said it has certified unions at eight Starbucks locations.

Mr. Schultz said the additional benefits are still being developed, and didn’t give an exact timeline for when they would be introduced.

Once workers have unionized, the law states that employers can’t unilaterally change compensation and other terms for those workers without bargaining with their union, said Cathy Creighton, director of the Cornell University ILR Buffalo Co-Lab and a past attorney for the NLRB. But an employer can ask unionized workers if they also want additional benefits, she said.

“It’s a union avoidance technique,” Ms. Creighton said, referring to employers discussing benefits that won’t automatically extend to unionized workers.

Pro-union workers are advocating for better pay and benefits, along with more influence over company policy and a direct line to company leaders. Starbucks has said a union would create a barrier between workers and the company, and Starbucks itself can best respond to employees’ needs.

In his first week on the job, Mr. Schultz has targeted the unionization effort. Starbucks on Sunday released an employee message from Mr. Schultz criticizing unions as an outside force trying to gain influence at the company. Mr. Schultz also said he came into contact with union organizers personally during his first week back in the CEO role, and disagreed with their approach and message.

“Outside labor unions are attempting to sell a very different view of what Starbucks should be,” he wrote in the message Sunday.

Baristas affiliated with the Starbucks Workers United union are increasing their criticism of Mr. Schultz. They have notched more unionization victories since Mr. Schultz has started in his third stint as CEO, including two Boston-area stores that voted to unionize Monday. On Wednesday, a store in Eugene, Ore., voted 17-0 to unionize. The NLRB is expected to count a unionization vote at a Starbucks location in Virginia on Thursday, as well as tallies at stores in Seattle, Richmond, Va., and Louisville, Colo., next week.

Maria Suevo, a Boston-area barista who said she was celebrating her store’s unionization Monday, said she found Mr. Schultz’s messages to employees on unions deeply insulting. “I’m an extremely pro-union partner,” Ms. Suevo said. “I don’t hate Starbucks.”

In a sign of Mr. Schultz’s emerging strategy for tackling unionization at Starbucks locations, Mr. Schultz said the Starbucks Workers United labor group doesn’t fully represent store employees because so few workers have voted in labor elections. Mr. Schultz said less than 40% of employees have voted in union elections among the U.S. stores that have tallied unionization votes so far.

The interim CEO is pushing store leaders to encourage all workers to vote in the growing number of union elections taking place at U.S. stores.

“No one should allow a vocal minority to control the destiny of a particular store or district or region or the entire company,” Mr. Schultz said Monday.

Tens of thousands of American workers are on strike and thousands more are attempting to unionize. WSJ examines the roots of this new labor activity and speaks with a labor economist for more context on U.S. labor’s changing landscape. Photo: Alyssa Keown/AP (Video from 11/23/21)

The company also needs to show that Workers United, the union backing Starbucks Workers United, hasn’t negotiated better benefits and pay than what Starbucks currently offers in its other contracts, Mr. Schultz said.

Richard Minter, Workers United’s director of organizing, said of Mr. Schultz: “His false promises will not stop the movement.”

Starbucks executives said they plan to provide further information to store leaders about what unions can do through collective bargaining and what they can’t, like fix broken cafe equipment.

A Starbucks Workers United national organizing committee member said interest in unionizing among baristas has continued since Mr. Schultz has returned as CEO, and accused the company of interfering with elections and firing pro-union employees.

“We will continue to fight to hold Starbucks accountable to the company we know it could be,” she said.

Starbucks has said an employee’s interest in unionization doesn’t exempt it from applying long-held employee standards when it comes to its workers.

Write to Heather Haddon at

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