Starbucks’s Multimillion-Dollar Anti-Union Effort May Have Backfired

Starbucks has seen a flurry of labor activism in the last two months. More than 100 Starbucks workers in 26 states have filed for union elections. In response, the company has bombarded workers with anti-union text messages; launched a slick anti-union website; forced workers to attend mandatory “captive audience” meetings; tried to pack bargaining units with newly hired employees who are trained separate from pro-union workers; threatened to closeNewly unionized stores in Buffalo, New York. Pro-union workers allegedly fired at stores in Memphis, Tennessee and elsewhere.

At least 30 attorneys from Starbucks’s law firm, anti-union giant Littler Mendelson, have sought to delay elections and contested workers’ right to vote in store-by-store bargaining units, arguing that Starbucks would fare better in large units composed of multiple stores and will benefit from election delay. These often-effective strategies have been a success. standard featureOver the past 50 years, there have been many corporate anti-union campaigns.

So far, however, Starbucks’s multimillion-dollar anti-union effort has been remarkably unsuccessful and may even have backfired. Starbucks Workers United won the union. two out of three electionsBuffalo, December. More recently, pro-union workers defeated Starbucks 25-3 in an electionAt a Mesa, Arizona store, which isn’t exactly a stronghold for unions. The Biden administration’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has rejected outright Littler Mendelson’s arguments for multi-store bargaining units — the NLRB has always viewed single stores as the appropriate unit in food retail — and on Monday, it rejected Littler’s arguments against single-store units for the third time, thereby allowing a count at another three Buffalo stores, and it’s likely that the Board will try to speed up the process to prevent similar delay at future stores that have petitioned for elections.

On Wednesday, Starbucks Workers United won the entire competition. three electionsThree more Buffalo area shops were also represented. Although the margin of victory was narrow, the union was worried that it might lose at the least one and possibly two of the three elections. At the store, it expected would return a majority “no” vote, Starbucks had delayed the election, closed the store for two months, expanded the bargaining unit with new employees who were trained separately from pro-union workers, reduced hours and attempted to drive out pro-union workers through strict enforcement of its scheduling and other personnel policies — and yet it still lost. The small margins of victory at Buffalo (two by three votes, one by one vote) show that Starbucks’s campaign to delay elections and pack and purge bargaining units had an impact — one of the three stores had filed for an election with 85 percent of the original employees signing union authorization cards — but the aggressive, multimillion-dollar anti-union campaign is still losing vote counts and still failing to stop workers at more stores from filing for elections. The latest three victories in Buffalo could be a sign that something is changing. There are 21 more NLRB elections scheduled for the next six weeks.

So, why has Starbucks’s union avoidance effort been such a dud?

Starbucks Captive Meetings fail to capture workers

Starbucks coffee shops are distinguished by the lack of direct managerial supervision. Amazon fulfillment centers, however, have workers that are constantly monitored. Once a Starbucks store has a full staff of experienced baristas, it can operate as an autonomous unit with minimal managerial oversight and allows baristas to have ample time to talk union with each other. And after they do this, Starbucks’s hackneyed anti-union propaganda becomes less effective and workers usually decide to choose the union. Workers have been bombarded with anti-union messages — often through mandatory captive audience meetings — but their minds are already made up, and the bullying nature of Starbucks’s anti-union campaign is likely even working against the coffee giant.

Starbucks’s young workers are not buying the arguments of its outside consultants about unions being “external third parties” who are only interested in their dues money, and know that they themselves are Starbucks Workers United. It was quite a surprise to discover that the Buffalo organizing drives were being organized by Starbucks. flooded the stores with outside management, probably counterproductively, only to find their tried-and-tested intimidation tactics didn’t work as expected. In terms of the labor consciousness of young workers, we’re in a different moment than we were two years ago, but Starbucks and its consultants appear not to understand this.

Organizing has been largely organically influenced by workers who have been involved in organic activism. inspiredBy the example of Mesa and Buffalo. It would be a strong argument for the self-organization that the 1935 National Labor Relations Act originally envisaged if most Starbucks stores became unionized. Littler Mendelson has advised clientsTo call police to eject professional labor organizers, but it would not be easy to find any outside organizers at Starbucks.

More Like Starbucks, But Less Like Amazon

So how do we make the typical workplace in the United States more like Starbucks — at which employee self-organization could, at least in theory, flourish — and less like Amazon, at which any union talk is immediately crushed, and workers are routinely forced to attendAnti-union meetings around the clock

For starters, the Biden NLRB should separate the employers’ freedom to speak from their ability to make employees listen by prohibiting mandatory captive meetings, which could signal a variety of other non-legislative changes, with the goal of ultimately making employer speech no more coercive — and thus, no more commanding — than union speech. Pro-union workers face numerous legal obstacles, but getting rid of mandatory meetings is a starting point, and in light of the current Starbucks and Amazon union drives, it’s increasingly difficult to justify them with a straight face.

Workers will choose unions if they are not intimidated by corporations

There is a huge need for union representation at the workplace in the United States. A 2018 analysis by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors shows that 50 percent of nonunion workers want union representation but can’t get it under the current system of employer-dominated elections. The public approval of unions is at an almost 60 year high. almost 80 percentMany young people approve of unions. Most young workers are not union members because they work at “young” nonunion workplaces and because the law gives free rein to powerful anti-union corporations like Amazon and Starbucks that spend millions to undermine worker organization. They want fair treatment and unionization is a way to achieve this goal.

To challenge autocracy at work in America, it would be a good start to get rid of mandatory captive meetings. Prohibiting corporate interference in union elections might ultimately require the repeal of the ludicrously misnamed “free speech” provision of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which is an anti-union measure that has been used as legal justification for many of employers’ most powerful and intimidating anti-union tacticsExamples include captive meetings. Our current conservative judiciary — which has weaponized corporate speech against workers — would make that tough going, but the country has never been more willing to consider it than right now.

Two Parting Shots from the Starbucks Campaign

The greatest obstacle to strengthening the right of workers to choose a union was that very few Americans understood the basics of labor law. The outstanding media coverage that Amazon and Starbucks have generated about their union campaigns has been a testament to this fact. helped change thatWe have now made two unavoidable truths clear:

First, if Starbucks’s principal anti-union strategy is to impede voting and delay the counting of ballots, To pack and purge bargaining unitsTop management must take a hard look at themselves. Starbucks management wants its “partners,” and the public, to think of this campaign as the company vs. “Big Labor,” but, thus far, workers are not buying its propaganda about the union being an outside “third party” and believe that they themselves are Starbucks Workers United.

Second, the time has come to get rid of the obscene spectacle of multibillion-dollar corporations forcing $15-per-hour employees to listen to anti-union speeches conducted by highly paid professional “labor relations consultants.”

Starbucks’ union campaign offers a glimpse of the promise of worker selforganization. The question for the wider labor movement is, What can the labor movement do to help this process go smoothly?Corporate America is also most afraid of worker self-organization. Another prominent anti union law firm wrote that the Starbucks campaign had “energized organized labor” and warned that “union-free companies should take note.” If the Biden NLRB resists Starbucks’s efforts to delay and undermine elections, taking note might not be enough to stop the spread of worker self-organization.