In 2008, the coffee chain suffered a financial crisis that crippled every other industry.
Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO between 1987 and 2000, returned to help the company.
He brought the chain back on its feet, running Starbucks as CEO for almost a decade before handing the responsibilities to Kevin Johnson.
However, Johnson left the position in March 2022, prompting a return for Schultz.
Last year, he addressed another Starbucks crisis: growing unionization.
An ominous sign for Starbucks
In February, Howard Schultz spoke with Poppy Harlow of CNN, discussing the union’s growth and relations with China and the US economy.
Schultz clarified that his return to the company wasn’t due to the union efforts.
However, he acknowledged that the labor movement was a sign that times were changing at Starbucks.
“It’s my belief that the efforts of unionization in America are in many ways a manifestation of a much bigger problem,” said Schultz.
“There is a macro issue here that is much, much bigger than Starbucks.”
The first Starbucks chain to unionize voted in December 2021, five months before his return.
Howard Schultz also said he would stay the company’s interim CEO for the third and final time.
Even so, before rejoining the company, Schultz was alarmed by the unionization movement.
A month before the first Starbucks chain voted, he wrote an open letter to its “partners,” a term the company uses for its employees.
“No partner has ever needed to have a representative seek to obtain things we all have as partners at Starbucks.”
“I am saddened and concerned to hear anyone thinks that is needed now.”
A fight for rights
Despite the letter, unionized workers are still fighting for several causes, including guaranteed schedules, protecting benefits for part-timers, and more.
Another priority the union has is to have the company sign fair election principles to protect workers’ rights to organize without recrimination.
Since returning as CEO, Howard Schultz has strengthened his opposition to the union.
In that period, the unionization battle intensified.
Union leadership accused the company of refusing to sit down and bargain, threatening their benefits while employing union-busting strategies.
Starbucks has denied the allegations.
Charges from both sides
The union filed hundreds of unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks.
Meanwhile, the coffee chain retaliated, filing its own unfair labor charges against them, claiming the union is stalling negotiations.
However, the NLRB found several cases where the company illegally threatened and let go of workers involved in union efforts.
A judge recently ruled that Starbucks must stop the unlawful practice of firing employees involved in the union.
According to the company, the measure was unwarranted and it tries to comply with the law.
Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee members asked Howard Schultz to testify in an upcoming hearing on the company’s compliance with labor laws.
Schultz declined the request, and Starbucks chief public affairs officer AJ Jones II will attend the hearing.
The movement’s progress
The NLRB certified in mid-February that 282 stores voted to unionize, while only 56 voted against it.
With over 9,3000 US company-operated Starbucks chains, only a few have voted to unionize.
For Howard Schultz, the numbers indicate that most Starbucks partners are happy with how things are going.
Regardless, the union believes its growth is a sign of worker interest.
“The fact that Starbucks workers are continuing to organize and win shows just how much workers need and desire a union,” said the union.
For years, Starbucks has built a solid image and reputation as a progressive company.
Howard Schultz was instrumental in establishing the image, offering employees:
- Company stock
- Employee health insurance
- Tuition reimbursement
However, his reputation is challenged as he prepares to step down as CEO, partly due to the company’s opposition to the union.
Despite the opposition, Howard Schultz isn’t backing down.
In 2022, when Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks, he took the time to visit employees on a “listening tour” to help him develop a new roadmap for the company.
He said that the company had lost its way.
“I’ve talked to thousands of our Starbucks partners,” Schultz said.
“I was shocked, stunned to hear the loneliness, the anxiety, the fracturing of trust in government, fracturing of trust in companies, fracturing of trust in families, the lack of hope in terms of opportunity.”
According to Schultz, American companies deal with unionizations because workers are upset “not so much with the company, but the situation.”