But Schultz – who was recently named the interim chief executive of Starbucks – did not face a unionization movement as large and rapid as it is now. Six U.S. Starbucks stores have voted in favor of unions since December, and at least 140 unions in 27 states have applied for union elections.
It is unclear how Schultz will deal with the problem when he returns to the company in April.
“He personally accepted that his employees wanted to be part of a union because he thought they would not need it to be in charge,” said Pam Bluman-Schmidt, a retired union representative who worked to organize Starbucks’ first stores. In the early 1980s. “He’ll say things like, ‘You probably need a union in a coal mine, but not in a Starbucks store.’
Starbucks announced March 16 that its five-year CEO Kevin Johnson is retiring. The company tapped Schultz to serve as interim CEO until a permanent replacement was found this fall. Schultz, 68, who has held the honorary title of Chairman Emeritus since 2018, is also rejoining the company’s board.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. But Timothy Hubbard, an assistant professor of management at Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, says he is in a good position to do so.
“My idea is that if they want to close the unions, that’s the best thing they can do,” Hubbard said. “What Schultz needs to deal with difficult issues like union.”
Schultz did not respond to requests for comment from her website or her family’s foundation.
In a November letter to employees posted just before the first union vote in three stores in Buffalo, New York, Schultz said he tried to create a company for which his blue-collar father never got a chance to work.
He recalls the “traumatic moment” his family had no income after his father was injured in the workplace, and says Starbucks has benefits such as healthcare, free college tuition, parental leave and stock grants for employees.
“As partners at Starbucks, we don’t need a partner’s representative to get what we all have ৷ and I’m sorry and concerned that anyone who thinks this is needed now,” Schultz wrote.
But many union organizers, who complain of inconsistent hours, poor training, low staffing and low wages, get the word out.
“A lot of people thought they were giving a speech to a frustrated father because they weren’t grateful,” said Jazz Brisak, a Starbucks barista and labor organizer who heard Schultz speak at an employee forum in Buffalo last autumn.
Others say they have seen direct anger from Schultz over unions.
Bluman-Schmidtz said that with Schultz buying Starbucks in 1987, he withdrew a labor agreement that reached between the company and the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, which represents six Seattle-area stores and a roasting plant. Schultz wanted a new deal with weak benefits and job security, said Bluman-Schmitz, who has retired from the union.
One day, he said, Schultz saw his flying fly at the roasting plant, screamed and ran towards him with a red face.
Ann Bellev was working part-time at the roasting plant and sat on the union negotiating committee. He always received brilliant performance reviews, but after Schultz took over, he was suddenly reprimanded. Belve left the company in 1988.
“You can see the writing on the wall. With the growth of the company, it will not be possible to work on the honest beliefs of all the people in power, ”he said.
Schultz soon expelled the Union. In his 1997 book, Your Heart Into It, he recalls how a barista opposed the union, launching a campaign to overthrow it. By 1992, the union no longer represented the store or roasting plant. Schultz saw this as a sign that the workers believed him.
“If they believed in me and my motives, they would not need a union,” he wrote.
Still, the effort to unify Starbucks did not go away, and the company continued to fight them. Starbucks had to reinstate or pay laid off workers to deal with multiple labor law violations in the early 2000s.
Last year, the NLRB found that Starbucks had illegally retaliated against two Philadelphia barristers who were trying to unite. The NLRB said Starbucks monitored employees on social media, illegally spying on their conversations, and eventually fired them. It instructed Starbucks to stop interfering in workers’ rights by proposing to organize and reinstate the two workers.
Most recently, on March 15, the NLRB filed a lawsuit against Starbucks alleging that Phoenix’s district and store managers spied on and threatened those who supported the union. Allegedly, Starbucks suspended one union supporter and fired another.
Starbucks made no one available for comment.
In a letter to employees in December, Starbucks North America President Rosen Williams said the company would respect the legal process and bargain in good faith. But the company insists its stores work better if it works directly with employees.
The results of the current united effort are unclear. The number of stores that have applied for union election is still a fraction of Starbucks’ 9,000 company-owned stores in the United States, and Starbucks has the resources to continue the fight, with annual revenues of $ 29 billion last year.
But Brisak said the united effort was stronger than in the past, which was thwarted by high worker turnover and resource-starvation unions. Organizers now have the support of Workers United – an arm of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union – and a union-friendly president at the White House. Brisak said the epidemic had exacerbated workers’ anger.
The weather is also changing. Dan Cornfield, a labor expert and Vanderbilt’s professor of sociology, says the U.S. vote shows growing public support for unions since the Great Depression. This is a big difference from the 1980s, when Starbucks first fought unions.
“By taking an anti-union stance from the Reagan era, they are potentially endangering their customer base,” Cornfield said.