Starbucks is Weaponizing Wage Increases and Benefits Against Unionizing Workers, In Violation of National Labor Relations Act

Senators Seek More Information about Starbucks’ Anti-Union Activity

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington (October 5, 2022) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and its Chair of its Board of Directors, Mellody Hobson, blasting the company for its union-busting campaign, including its ongoing and illegal weaponization of benefits against unionizing workers. The senators are calling on Starbucks to stop its union-busting and recognize and bargain in good faith with unionized workers, and are seeking more information related to the company’s anti-union campaign. 

In 2021, a wave of unionization efforts began at Starbucks with workers at stores in the Buffalo, New York area. Since then, the effort to unionize has spread to over 350 locations in at least 30 states, with at least 229 bargaining units certified. While Starbucks claims that it “respect[s] the right of [its] partners to organize”, the senators criticized Starbucks’ tactics to discourage and retaliate against employees organizing or joining a union. Unionized Starbucks workers at one store in Brookline, Massachusetts reported that their hours were cut until many of them were below the threshold required to qualify for critical benefits like health insurance, and that part-time workers were subjected to unpredictable schedules. When the workers held a 64-day strike to stand up to this intimidation, Starbucks engaged in a misinformation campaign to try to mislead workers into opposing the union. 

“Starbucks has also weaponized wage increases and new benefits in its anti-union campaign, threatening to withhold them from workers who have voted to unionize, and even those who are organizing and have not yet had a union election – and not hesitating to act on that threat… you have illegally extended [benefits] only to non-unionized workers and used this disparity to threaten workers considering unionization,” wrote the senators. 

Starbucks has extended wage increases to non-unionized workers only, and has not extended, or taken away, benefits including gender-affirming care, abortion-related travel expenses, student loan repayment and savings accounts, and accelerated sick leave accrual to workers in unionized stores. 

The senators wrote that these actions appear to be illegal under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) which prohibits employers from engaging in unfair labor practices against employees, including threatening workers with a loss of benefits if they support a union. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has already acted to hold Starbucks accountable for breaking the law – filing over 30 complaints against Starbucks. In August 2022, an NLRB complaint alleged that Starbucks “illegally withheld wages and benefits from employees at unionized stores and those in the process of unionizing”. 

Given Starbucks’ ongoing and illegal weaponization of pay and benefits against unionizing workers and its flagrant efforts to flout the NLRA, the senators are calling on Starbucks to end its union-busting campaign and bargain in good faith with unionized workers. To better understand their anti-union activities, the senators are asking Starbucks to answer a set of questions about the guidance the company has given managers about unionization drives, the list of all cases where the company has introduced or altered benefits for non-unionized stores while withholding these from unionized stores, and a detailed report of the company’s spending relating to its union-busting campaign by November 4, 2022.