Starbucks stand their ground against unionization efforts during shareholder meeting

Despite work stoppages at about 100 cafes in more than 40 U.S. cities, Starbucks are still standing firm against workers unionizations.

In an annual shareholder meeting held Thursday, the company’s Board of Directors recommended a vote against a proposal that would allow an independent, third-party assessment of Starbucks’ worker rights commitments.

Starbucks executives also clarified that they won’t enter into a labor neutrality agreement; where an employer agrees to not oppose a labor organization’s effort to organize its employees or refrain from taking a position – for or against – the union during the organizing campaign.

These stances come after Starbucks baristas and organizers went on strike the day before, demanding that the company drop its alleged anti-union coercion. This is the latest effort by the union - Starbucks Workers United - to force a pivot by the coffee corporation.

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Starbucks has been under intense scrutiny for breaking the law to defeat organizing efforts, including excluding unionized stores from new benefits, shutting down cafes, and terminating dozens of employee organizers.

Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs pointed out how investors are not only concerned about these serious allegations against the company, but also concerned that Starbucks has violated its own fundamental human rights commitment, as he presented the proposal to assess Starbucks’ worker rights commitments in the shareholder meeting.

“The apparent misalignment between Starbucks’ public commitments and its reported conduct create material, reputational, legal and operational risks to the company,” said Frerichs. “[This proposal] offers the board an opportunity to prioritize compliance to hold the company’s commitments to its employee’s fundamental rights and address increasing risks to the company and shareholders.”

While votes for or against this proposal will be disclosed after four business days from the meeting, the company’s response is still in opposition to it. Starbucks employees’ voices and concerns are a “top priority” for both management and the board, a company official said.

“Starbucks has commenced efforts to perform a human rights impact assessment which will be conducted by independent, third parties,” said Starbucks Corporate secretary Jennifer Kraft, elaborating that those with appropriate subject matter expertise will conduct the assessment and delve into a deeper level review of the principles of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

“We expect to make the results of the human rights [assessment] available to shareholders, stakeholders and other interested parties by the end of our 2023 fiscal year, subject to privilege considerations,” concluded Kraft.

In a Q&A session following the meeting, Starbucks’ AJ Jones, executive vice president of public affairs, explained why the company won’t consider entering a labor neutrality agreement.

“Because it would prohibit the ability for us to talk openly and freely with our partners, provide them with the information they need about the value and importance of direct relationship with us, and how it could change under union representation,” said Jones.

Jones brought up the provision of a “card check” as an inhibitor for employees’ right to vote for union representation.

Most neutrality agreements include a majority sign-up or “card check” agreement, where employees who want to join a union sign a card authorizing the union to represent them in collective bargaining.

Meanwhile, unionization efforts continue across the country where in this week alone, workers from seven stores filed for union elections in states like Ohio, Kentucky, and California.

Naina Rao

Naina Rao

Naina Rao is Reckon's daily news reporter. She formerly worked at NPR producing for Morning Edition and the Culture Desk, and has experience covering Religion, Arts & Culture, and international news. Naina is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, proficient in Malay, and is working on her Hindi.

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