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‘Huge breakthrough’ in Starbucks union talks – which other US firms will follow?

by Elijah
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‘Huge breakthrough’ in Starbucks union talks – which other US firms will follow?

For more than two years, Starbucks has fought fiercely against unionization. The company now appears willing to come to the negotiating table.

Starbucks and its union made a surprise joint announcement in late February: they agreed to seek “a constructive path forward” on “the future of organizing and collective bargaining.”

On Tuesday, the Starbucks union announced it would resume in-person negotiations with the company at the end of April, with the goal of reaching a “fundamental framework agreement.” He said there would be “bargaining delegates representing over 400” unionized Starbucks stores.

The news – while received cautiously – is not only a well-deserved encouragement to workers at the coffee chain, but also to others at Amazon, Trader Joe’s and outdoor sports retailer REI, whose own efforts to conclude a first contract I barely made any progress over the past 18 months.

If Starbucks — the company that labor experts say has been the most aggressive against unions in decades — had signaled that it might finally be ready to strike a union, who would be next?

“It’s a huge step forward,” said Claire Chang, a saleswoman at REI’s Soho store in Manhattan, which in March 2022 became the first REI store in the United States to unionize. “After two years of trying to get a contract, Starbucks workers were finally able to convince this massive multi-billion dollar company to meet them at the bargaining table. After the company was so adamant, it gives us some reason hope.”

Chang and many other REI workers have criticized their company for the glacial pace of contract negotiations. The developments at Starbucks, Chang said, “have reignited the flame for us and we just have to keep going.”

John Logan, a social studies professor at San Francisco State University, said he remains skeptical of Starbucks’ announcement and whether the coffee chain will end its anti-union activities. and to conclude a first contract in the near future. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed 128 complaints against Starbucks, accusing it of more than 1,000 violations of the law, including the firing of dozens of baristas in retaliation for their support of the union. Starbucks denies any wrongdoing.

Logan said that if Starbucks strikes a good contract with its union, Starbucks Workers United, “it could turn out to be one of the greatest union success stories in decades.” It’s almost as if Amazon or Tesla decided to stop busting unions.

“If Starbucks reaches an agreement,” Logan added, “it would serve as an inspiration to other workers.

Michelle Eisen, a barista and spokesperson for the Starbucks union, expressed optimism about the Starbucks union announcement. “We are excited to chart a new path with Starbucks based on mutual respect,” she said in an email. “We hope that our shared commitment to working collaboratively will inspire other companies to recognize that respecting the voice of workers is good for business.” »

Starbucks made a peace offering to its union after its anti-union actions and numerous charges brought against it by the NLRB damaged its reputation, after its stock price plummeted, after the union disrupted dozens of stores with a wave of strikes and after many people started striking. calling for a national boycott. Starbucks managers have indicated that they were ready to turn the page with the union.

“It is incredibly significant that Starbucks has finally agreed to a working framework with the union,” said Richard Bensinger, who was an advisor to the Starbucks union when it won its first union elections in late 2021 and early 2022, despite opposition. aggressiveness of the company. union efforts. “This will send a message to other workers that recruitment can be successful. »

Seth Goldstein is an attorney with the Amazon Labor Union, which made history by winning the first union election at an Amazon warehouse in the United States – the union won 2,654 votes to 2,131 in April 2022 in the Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island. Goldstein said “it would be wonderful” if Starbucks stopped fighting its union and agreed to a first contract.

“It would have a positive effect for Amazon workers because they would see that unionizing works,” he said. “But I don’t know if this will change Amazon’s anti-union policies.”

Goldstein said that changing Amazon’s anti-union stance will “require extreme pressure on Amazon from all sectors, including the government.”

In light of Starbucks’ announcement, it appears that two Seattle-area giants, Microsoft and Starbucks, are making peace with unions, while two other major Seattle-area companies, Amazon and REI, remain opposed to unionization. Elizabeth Ford, who directs the workers’ rights clinic at Seattle University Law School, said that in Seattle, discussions about the Starbucks announcement were overshadowed by other things: “What’s holding back a little The most people’s attention is that SpaceX, Starbucks and Amazon are challenging the constitutionality of the NLRB.

Ford agreed with Goldstein, saying, “I don’t think it (the Starbucks announcement) is going to influence Amazon.” » She said, however, that this could influence REI. “Will REI recognize that it can prevent damage to its brand and perhaps even strengthen it by making negotiations with its workers as smooth as possible? Ford said. She added that REI’s opposition to her union undermines its efforts to project a “progressive corporate identity.”

Adam Obernauer, organizing director of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has unionized several REI stores, said the Starbucks developments raise a question. “For progressive employers like REI and Trader Joe’s, who continually fight the law and are repeatedly accused of breaking the law, is it viable for them to continue to fight day after day and spend all this money to fight against the union?

Obernauer said a cooperative like REI “must understand that its members believe in workers’ rights, believe in environmental rights and believe in a better future. You cannot try to make money from your progressive positions while ignoring the rights of your own workers.”

Sarah Beth Ryther, who led a 55-5 union victory at a Trader Joe’s store in Minneapolis, blames her company for the hectic pace of negotiations and says Starbucks’ announcement gives her hope. “From our perspective, it’s really cool to see all the power that the Starbucks union has deployed through all their strikes and everything else,” she said. “They have been incredibly inspiring and I really hope, for the sake of the work, that they can progress.”

“It’s the kind of thing where I’ll believe it when it happens, and if it happens, it would be absolutely amazing,” she continued. “It would be a huge deal if any of the newly unionized workers got a contract. Right now, it feels like we’re in uncharted territory, with these contract negotiations going on forever. »

Ryther acknowledged that Starbucks Workers United, with about 400 unionized stores, has more clout than the Trader Joe’s union, which has organized only four stores. “If Starbucks workers are able to get a contract, it changes the whole narrative of what is possible,” she said.

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