Starbucks Barista Unionization Heats Up Despite CEO Howard Schultz’s Initiatives

In the month since Chief Executive Howard Schultz retook the helm at Starbucks Corp. in April, the battle between the coffee giant and workers seeking to unionize its U.S. cafes has heated up. If the Amazon union’s triumph was remarkable partly because of how powerless its workers appeared to be, the Starbucks union surge is notable because of how happy its employees were often perceived to be.

When the new CEO addressed the baristas on the opening day of his third term, he underlined his determination to create better jobs as well as a return to form. He detailed the employee benefits he had devised that distinguished Starbucks from its competitors, including stock grants and free tuition for online courses at Arizona State University.

He believed that collective bargaining was not the solution, declaring that he was not anti-union, only pro-Starbucks.

Hundreds of baristas in eight states believe the green apron’s reality fell short of Schultz’s portrayal and of US employees’ escalating expectations.

According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, $15 an hour is decent money in some regions of the country, but it is still less than half of what it costs to maintain one adult and one child in a city like Seattle.

Until December, none of Starbucks‘ nearly 9,000 corporate-run US coffee shops were unionized, maybe due to Starbucks’ opposition to organizing, as well as the relatively high pay and perks that Schultz took tremendous pride in.

Following the lead and advice of first-mover baristas in Buffalo, workers at more than 60 sites in 17 states decided to join Workers United, an associate of the Service Employees International Union. Around 175 additional Starbucks employees have petitioned the federal government for their own ballots.

From coast to coast, successful votes have been cast, including in deep-red states and at a flagship megacafé in Seattle. Employees at Amazon, Apple, Verizon, and other companies look to their triumphs for inspiration.

Starbucks supporters agree that it is a better place to work than many of its competitors. But they want more money, more support, and also more control over how the firm is run, their work, and hence their lives.

The baristas’ uprising serves as a beacon for employees and a message to executives: if it can happen at Starbucks, it can happen everywhere, reports say.

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