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Starbucks urges baristas’ union chief to restart contract negotiations, this time with a deadline

Starbucks urges baristas’ union chief to restart contract negotiations, this time with a deadline
Starbucks union

A copy of the request to SWU President Lynne Fox was sent to every employee of a unionized Starbucks. | Photo: Shutterstock.

Starbucks has asked the union representing the employees of 367 units to push through an impasse on contract negotiations and hammer out employment agreements for the 9,100 employees by the end of 2024.

The overture to start negotiations next month came in the form of a letter from Starbucks Chief Partner Officer Sara Kelly to Lynne Fox, president of Workers United, the parent organization of 2-year-old Starbucks Workers United (SWU). The communication was slugged, “Formal Request to Recommence Contract Bargaining.”

A copy of the letter was sent to all employees of unionized Starbucks stores in the United States. It counters the frequent assertions of Workers United that the coffee chain refuses to bargain and is stalling the negotiations purposely to thwart the union. With normal staff turnover, the majorities of baristas who voted to unionize are being eroded in some instances, leaving fewer supporters of outside representation in place. The current employees of 19 organized units have already petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a vote on whether to maintain union representation.

The regulatory agency has not granted any of the requests, citing alleged unfair practices on Starbucks’ part.

Starbucks said it has asked SWU representatives to meet with chain officials more than 500 times, with negotiation sessions actually scheduled in at least 100 instances. But the talks invariably broke down over disagreements about what format the negotiations should take.  Starbucks has indicated its preference for small closed-door sessions, arguing that the relative privacy will foster candor, trust and the discretion that’s typical of compensation discussions.

But Starbucks Workers United has countered with a stated preference for meetings that are broadcast via Zoom or similar webcast platforms to a wide audience of union members.

The parties have also been at odds over the scope of a contract. The SWU began its organizing campaign with petitions for a union vote in each of three stores in Buffalo, N.Y.  Starbucks countered that it’d prefer one vote for all cafes in the market, arguing that workers often float from one unit to another. A whole-market vote on organizing would also have been harder for the union to win since it would have needed to convince a larger number of workers to vote “yes” for the necessary majority.

The NLRB sided with the union and ruled that a vote had to be held in each unit. That store-by-store policy remains in effect today.

Now SWU is suggesting that negotiating a single contract across all 367 union-certified Starbucks stores would make more sense. Starbucks has pointed out that the NLRB’s decision essentially rules out the possibility, though executives acknowledge the merit of agreeing on a basic contract template and then tailoring it to each union store.

After receiving Starbucks’ letter, Fox issued a statement saying, “We are reviewing it and will respond.”

She added, “We’ve never said no to meeting with Starbucks. Anything that moves bargaining forward in a positive way is most welcome.”

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