Common Dreams Worker's Rights

Critics Say Starbucks CEO Just Declared ‘Permanent War’ Against Union

Billionaire Howard Schultz's vow to never negotiate in good faith with Starbucks Workers United may violate federal labor law.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks onstage at the New York Times DealBook D.C. policy forum on June 9, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for the New York Times)

By Kenny Stancil / Common Dreams

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz made it clear Thursday that he does not intend to hold good-faith negotiations with Starbucks Workers United—the union that has won elections at more than 140 coffee shops nationwide since December—potentially exposing the corporation to a fresh legal fight with the National Labor Relations Board.

When asked by Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times if he could ever see himself “embracing the union,” Schultz responded tersely: “No.”

“The customer experience,” the billionaire claimed during a live interview, will be degraded “if a third party is integrated into our business.”

As Jordan Zakarin of More Perfect Union reported Friday, Schultz’s comment “marks a significant and potentially illegal shift in the company’s public statements about its relationship” with Starbucks Workers United.

“Schultz’s statement could run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act, which requires a constructive approach from employers when its workers vote to form a union,” Zakarin noted. “The law demands that during collective bargaining, employers must ‘confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.'”

He continued:

Up to this point, Starbucks executives have been careful to insist that the company would bargain in good faith—often in those exact terms.

In December, immediately following the union’s first victories in Buffalo, Rossann Williams, Starbucks president for North America, stated in a public letter that “we will bargain in good faith with the union that represents partners in the one Buffalo store that voted in favor of union representation.”

Similar statements, from Schultz, Williams, and spokespersons for the company, have been made regularly for the past seven months.

Veteran labor journalist Steven Greenhouse responded to the interview by saying that Schultz in his remarks “seems to declare permanent war against the union.”

“Schultz sounds so hugely anti-union,” Greenhouse continued, “that he seems totally willing to refuse to cooperate in any way whatsoever with the union to help make Starbucks a better company and serve its customers better.”

“If I were a Starbucks shareholder,” he added, “this refusal to work with the union would worry me.”

Greenhouse also pointed out the hypocrisy of Schultz’s derogatory reference to the union as a “third party.”

Referring to high-level company executives and the union-busting law firm hired by Schultz to fend off worker organizing, Greenhouse said that “Starbucks didn’t call the dozens of managers and $500-an-hour Littler Mendelson lawyers it flew to Buffalo from out of town a ‘third party.'”

Peter Certo of the Institute for Policy Studies, meanwhile, responded to Schultz’s comments by issuing a caustic reminder that “Hillary Clinton was going to make this man her labor secretary.”

Kenny Stancil

Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

16 comments

  1. Ahh, eighteen years ago, quoting:

    AUGUST 26, 2004
    Starbucks Workers Get Organized!

    Two days after workers at the 36th and Madison Starbucks in New York City turned in their union cards to the NLRB for a certification election, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, sent them a little voice message. In this dispatch from the corporate tower, Schultz-who personally brought in 17 million dollars last year-tried to appeal to the $7.75-per-hour upstarts in words that would impress George Orwell.

    The multi-millionaire CEO began his message by referring to his poverty-wage employees as “partners”, and stressed how Starbucks and its workers “have built great trust in one another.” He went on to explain that he viewed “treating everyone with dignity and respect as our highest priority”, and stressed the “caring and supportive culture” of the company. He ended with this note of pure authenticity: “I want to conclude by simply thanking you for everything you do each day, and for being the real heart and soul of Starbucks.”

    “Behind the green aprons and smiles are individuals living in serious poverty. Starbucks cashes in on a community friendly image but it certainly doesn’t extend to their workers or coffee farmers. That’s why we went Union”.

  2. What’s new? The Corporates have been at war with the people since their creation. If corporations are people, then they are full on psychopaths….

  3. I personally don’t drink Starbucks. The inflation in the federal reserve is at 8% and a lot of people can’t even by ⛽️ for their car! This is called a failing empire for all of us! 60 million people up or down for un- employed and not looking to have a better life that we can’t even fix ! We are all “screwed to the wall “

  4. I personally don’t drink Starbucks. The inflation in the federal reserve is at 8% and a lot of people can’t even by ⛽️ for their car! This is called a failing empire for all of us! 60 million people up or down for un- employed and not looking to have a better life that we can’t even fix !

  5. While the New York Times continues to ignore the reality that America is a — Disguised Global Crony Capitalist Racist Propagandist Criminal Ecocidal & War-Starting EMPIRE, that is controlled by this ‘Ruling-Elite’, UHNWI, <0.003%ers, TCCers, arrogantly self-appointed "Masters of the Universe", and "Evil (not-so) Geniuses" [Kurt Andersen] — which hides Empire behind their totally corrupted dual-party Vichy-facade of faux-democracy —- it is obvious, researched, detailed, and proven by the “American Empire Project” of all academics that, as Ron Suskind wrote in the ‘Times’ almost two decades ago, “We’re an EMPIRE Now”.

    So the ‘Times’ is reduced to being the ‘paper of record’ which is lying to itself!

  6. Unions had formerly declared war on the freedom of association in denying the right to work without paying union dues as a condition of employment,

    1. The kind of thing only an employer or a brainwashed rube would say. With a union it’s a net gain for the worker so this “freedom of association” line is bullshit.

      Yeah, Pa Kettle wants to avoid dues and make less based on principle. You bet.

      1. Pa Kettle wants his wages neither be taken by union dues nor by theft through taxation. A worker is worthy of her wages.

    2. @ernest. Drinking the capitalist Kool Aid. “Open Shop” is a union busting talking point and was also used in the Jim Crow south to divide and conquer by racial divide! Why not fight the corporate “unions” called “Associations” that fund and hide behind think tanks and policy groups that keep the working class down. They must be proud of their work when men like you regurgitate their lies that sound reasonable, but only strengthen corporate power!

      1. The state helps keep the working class down by wage theft through income and payroll taxes.

  7. Unsurprising no? So how can we support the workers whose work makes Schultz a Fat Money man? How can we channel our “patron energy” to fuel the energies of decency into the dirty waters induced by this feudal lord declaration? And so demonstrate our spiritual and political connection to and support for these (usually) young people whose energy and kindness in service of filling our cups brings a little light into our day?

  8. I’m far from being a expert on this, but doesn’t labor law require Starbucks to negotiate a contract with union employees once a union is certified? Of course in this fascist country where corporations largely run the government, I suppose that Starbucks will be let off the hook for this.

    1. Maybe figure out how to grow the beans in or own backyard.
      Even in the 18th Century (Jane Austen days) aware persons chided their peers for tea and sugar consumption. Well, maybe not so much for consuming as for investing in colonial exploitation.
      On NHK I see docs showing mechanized tea cultivation, so I suspect tea is not so much a moral failing now.
      Actually, the cache’ of Starbucks is kind of degenerate, name on the cup and all, premium price for mundane muddy water.

  9. When billionaires like Schultz declare war like this, they usually get what they’re asking for. So sad. The Starbucks empire will not be missed. Inflation and cost of living being what it is, most can’t afford to even make their own cup of coffee, let alone pay Starbucks prices.

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