Following a wave of government complaints against the retail coffee giant, Senator Bernie Sanders has demanded Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz stop “shutting down pro-union” stores and reinstate workers who were allegedly fired for their union campaigns as hundreds of workers unionise at more than 300 stores across the US.
“Unfortunately and unacceptably, Starbucks has shown a flagrant disregard for ... fundamental freedoms and has engaged in a pattern of egregious unlawful behavior,” the progressive senator from Vermont wrote in a letter from his Senate office on 18 January.
“Therefore, I urge you to immediately halt your aggressive and illegal union busting campaign, resolve any existing violations and pending allegations, and negotiate a first contract with workers that is fair and just,” he added.
Roughly one year after Starbuck workers in Buffalo, New York, voted to form a union, galvanising a nationwide campaign among workers at corporate-run Starbucks cafes across the country, workers at more than 330 stores in nearly 40 states have held union elections, demanding safer conditions, better wages and more reliable schedules. On Tuesday, workers at three more stores in three states filed petitions for union elections.
The National Labor Relations Board has levied dozens of complaints against Starbucks, encompassing roughly 1,200 violations related to an alleged anti-union effort, including firing workers and closing stores, according to Starbucks Workers United.
“It has been nearly 400 days since the first Starbucks union was certified by the [federal labour agency], and yet you and your company have refused to bargain a first contract in good faith,” the senator wrote on Wednesday. “Instead, you have approached bargaining sessions with increasingly intense obstacles that include shutting down pro-union stores.”
He added: “Mr Schultz, my request to you is simple: Obey the law. Sit down with your workers and bargain in good faith. Agree to a first contract that is fair and just. Stop shutting down pro-union shops and reinstate workers who have been fired for union organizing.”
The senator has requested that the company answer a series of questions about its anti-union efforts by 1 February. Mr Sanders had previously requested answers from the company in another letter sent last October.
Last month, hundreds of Starbucks workers at roughly 100 stores participated in the union campaign’s three-day strike, marking the largest work stoppage among the coffee retailer’s workers in the company’s history.
Though he has not directly commented on the high-profile union campaign, which has attracted widespread support from progressive lawmakers, including New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others, President Joe Biden met with a union leader from Starbucks’ flagship New York City roastery during a White House meeting with labour organisers last year.
That meeting drew the ire of the coffee retailer, with a spokesperson writing to the administration that it is “deeply concerned” that Starbucks was not invited.
A letter to Mr Schultz from recently launched union campaigners in Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday said the company has failed “time and time again to provide adequate measures to ensure partner safety”.
“We deserve to feel safe and valued at work,” workers wrote. “We believe that equitable pay, empowered safety practices, and consideration for the actual partner experience will lead to a better Starbucks.”
Mr Sanders – the incoming chairman Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions – delivered a “state of the working class” speech from the steps of the US Capitol this week as he prepares to enter the role in the new Congress.
“Why do we want to grow the union movement and support workers who are trying to organize?” he said in his remarks on Tuesday. “Because unions provide better wages, benefits and working conditions for their members. … The American people know that workers have a constitutional right to form unions and that corporations that engage in illegal union busting activities must be held accountable.”
The Independent has requested comment from Starbucks.