Is it Alright to Drink Starbucks Again?

Starbucks Unions

             Heerlen           I broke my personal boycott of Starbucks in the Amsterdam train station at Schiphol Airport, partially in desperation after an overnight flight running for the train, partially because I didn’t have a choice since it was between the ticket counter and the track, and mainly because there was encouraging news that the company might be relaxing its fierce anti-union campaign over the last several years.  Only weeks ago, I had been a guest on a call with organizers with Workers’ United, the SEIU affiliate that has been winning hundreds of elections for Starbucks coffeehouses.  The mood then was committed and searching, but there was no sign then that there was a break in the clouds in the impasse between the company and the union.

Now there is a joint statement that indicates that there might be a path forward.  Starbucks had signaled a new direction recently with a request to the union to return to the table, but most observers, OK, me especially, were skeptical.  Maybe it was real?  Reports indicate that they are now implementing a wage increase in the union certified stores that they had denied workers since May 2022, as well as finally extending the ability to receive tips on credit card purchases.  The Guardian reports that they also are in discussions to try to resolve litigation that the parties engaged with each other.

The company had seemed to be stalling and outlasting the union in many of the certified stores, so is this really a change of direction, even if not a change of heart, and, if so, what caused it?  The union did recently show there is still life in their organizing by filing for 21 elections simultaneously around the country, including one near New Orleans.  Perhaps as important, if not more so, the union-waged stockholder referendum that is pending might have been a wake up call for management.  Who knows?  Maybe they just came to grip with reality that they have unionized stores in many hotels and other countries, and out of 9000 locations they can live very well and easily with 500 or 1000 more unionized locations, if they have peace in their valley?

Is it all real?  That’s a harder question.  Olive branches don’t necessarily spell a solid or smoother road to a good collective bargaining agreement, as much as it may signal that all parties are tired of this war of attrition.  Reading tea leaves, I saw a Facebook posting by Manny Pastreich, head of the giant East Coast SEIU Local 32B-J heralding the breakthrough and throwing credit everywhere, and he would be in a better position to know this is something other than PR, than those of us in the cheap seats, so this could be the real deal.

Either way, it’s time, and seeing unionized coffeehouses spread all over the country, red and blue, might help a thousand flowers bloom, so here’s hoping this will be a gift that comes for all of us in the coming spring season.