Opinion: Baristas Have Taken Up the Union Fight

Daniella Cressman

Starbucks has maintained a strong reputation as a relatively progressive company for quite some time, but it seems that the tides are changing as more and more employees unionize.

Starbucks founder Howard Schultz used to be considered 'one of the nation's most progressive CEOs,' said Andy Serwer and Dylan Croll in Yahoo Finance. Under his stewardship, the coffee giant installed 'some of the most generous benefits and work policies of any company in America,' including health care, company stock options, and free college tuition. But its pro-worker reputation is being tested. After a trying pandemic, many baristas are demanding better pay, stronger safety precautions, and 'a voice at the table.' Since December, workers have voted to unionize at 210 of the company's 9,000 U.S. stores. Schultz, who returned to serve as the company's interim CEO since April, is now under fire for 'behaving unethically and even illegally' when it comes to staunching the activity. It's turned Starbucks into 'the poster child for anti-unionism.' That's quite a mess to sort out for Schultz and his announced successor, Laxman Narasimhan, who will become CEO in 2023." —The Week Staff

While Starbucks is such a popular coffee shop it is hard to avoid—it has a reputation for decent prices, fairly tasty coffee and snacks, and convenience—there is a lot going on behind the scenes that customers may not be aware of.

"The National Labor Relations Board had to sanction the company for withholding raises and other benefits from its newly unionized workers. It has also been accused of 'firing 85 workers for organizing' and closing stores that were recently unionized. Starbucks Workers United represents 'a new breed of organized labor,' said Taylor Nicole Rogers in the Financial Times. Instead of aligning with a larger, sector-specific union, Starbucks employees are 'forming smaller groups led by workers on a store-by-store basis.' Labor leaders are looking at Starbucks as 'a crucial test of whether these nascent unions hold the key to reviving' a wider movement.'" —The Week Staff

While media outlets across the nation have sensationalized the supposed increase, union membership is actually down according to the numbers—especially among non-government employees.

"Despite 'media hype,' union membership is down by half a million workers since 2019. Some polls suggest support for unions is on the rise, but that's also misleading, said Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe. 'A new Gallup poll found that 71 percent of Americans say they approve of unions, the highest level recorded since 1965.' That's great, but does it add up to more workers actually joining them? Hardly. Among non-governmental employees, only 6.1 percent now belong to unions." —The Week Staff

Nonetheless, it does seem that resentment about arguably unfair compensation, burnout, and the like is becoming a prevalent concern among many employees, so it is worth considering what employers can do to improve the situation at hand—the pandemic forced most to rethink the nature of their jobs.

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Canadian-American author writing about local politics, personal finance, & dining in Albuquerque.

Albuquerque, NM
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