Thursday, April 25

Starbucks and Union agree to develop a framework for contract negotiations

Starbucks and the union representing employees at about 400 of its U.S. stores announced Tuesday that they were beginning discussions on a “fundamental framework” that would help the company reach labor agreements with unionized workers and resolve disputes between the two set off.

The union hailed the development as a major shift in strategy for Starbucks, which has taken steps to resist union organizing at the company since the campaign began in 2021, moves that federal labor regulators said violated the right of work hundreds of times.

Starbucks, which has denied the allegations, said in a statement that it hopes to negotiate and ratify contracts by the end of the year and that it would agree to a “fair organizing process” — something the union has been calling for for years. It said that, as a gesture of good faith, it was providing union workers with benefits introduced in 2022 but denied to union stores, such as the ability for customers to tip via credit card.

Representatives from Starbucks and the Workers United union said that while the details remain to be worked out, they hope to return to the bargaining table in the coming weeks. Negotiations between the two sides had largely lapsed in recent months.

Workers who helped lead the organization said the development surprised them. “It still feels pretty surreal right now,” said Michelle Eisen, a longtime barista at a Buffalo Starbucks, which was the first company-owned store to unionize during the current campaign. “There wasn’t a single call I was on today where I wasn’t crying or everyone else wasn’t crying.”

If a regulatory framework is agreed that leads quickly to contracting, experts say, it could represent a major development in labor relations in multinational America, where companies such as Amazon and Apple have resisted union organizing to varying degrees.

“If Starbucks truly intends to respect workers’ right to organize, stop intimidation and harassment of pro-union workers, and engage in true good faith bargaining, this is a huge step forward,” John Logan, professor at San Francisco State University who is an expert on how companies respond to union campaigns, said in an email.

But Dr Logan said he wanted to withhold judgment on the painting’s value until details were available. “There are many reasons to be cautious: Over the past two and a half years, the company has engaged in one of the most aggressive and illegal anti-union campaigns in modern history,” he said.

The change appears to have been led by the company’s CEO, Laxman Narasimhan, who took over nearly a year ago.

Narasimhan’s predecessor, Howard Schultz, told the New York Times in 2022 that he could not imagine ever embracing the union. He remains a large shareholder in Starbucks but is no longer on the board of directors.

Former executives who spoke to Narasimhan said he is less resistant to the union.

The company announced in December that it was looking to restart contract bargaining, and Mr. Narasimhan sent a conciliatory message soon after indicating that the company wanted to improve its relationship with employees, whom it calls partners.

“Our goal for the coming year is to further reinvigorate our partner culture,” Narasimhan wrote, adding that “it is time to mend the fabric of the green apron for all partners.”

People on both sides said the breakthrough — including an agreement on general principles — came during mediation last week to resolve lawsuits between the union and the company.

Last week, workers at more than 20 stores had filed petitions to unionize their stores – the most ever in one day, according to the union – reflecting the persistence of the campaign.

So far there has been no discussion of a dissident campaign for three seats on Starbucks’ board of directors, backed by a coalition of unions that includes Workers United’s parent company. Shareholders will be able to vote on nominees as late as the company’s annual meeting in mid-March if a compromise isn’t reached first, but the framework announcement could undermine the rationale for a change in the eyes of many investors.