Starbucks, Union Agree On ‘Path Forward’ In Big Breakthrough

Starbucks and the union representing workers at hundreds of its stores said Tuesday they had agreed upon a “path forward” to negotiate collective bargaining agreements and develop “a fair process for workers to organize.”

Both the union, Workers United, and the coffee chain described the accord as a major breakthrough after two years of nonstop organizing and legal battles. Roughly 400 of Starbucks’ 9,000 corporate-owned U.S. stores have joined the union since late 2021 in one of the most high-profile labor campaigns in years.

Sara Kelly, Starbucks’ top human resources officer, wrote in a letter to employees Tuesday that the company was in talks with the union to create a “foundational framework” for contracts at those stores. None have collective bargaining agreements yet, and until now the union has accused the company of bargaining in bad faith.

“It is a clear demonstration of our intent to build a constructive relationship with Workers United in the interests of our partners,” Kelly wrote.

Starbucks said it hoped to negotiate contracts for union stores by the end of the year.

As a show of “good faith,” Starbucks agreed to extend credit card tipping and other company-wide benefits that were announced in 2022 but withheld from stores where organizing was afoot. The company previously maintained that withholding the benefits was consistent with its reading of labor law, but the union as well as labor prosecutors said doing so was illegal retaliation.

While cautioning that “plenty of work lies ahead,” the union campaign, known as Starbucks Workers United, called it a “giant step forward.”

“As a show of ‘good faith,’ Starbucks agreed to extend credit card tipping and other company-wide benefits that were announced in 2022 but withheld from stores where organizing was afoot.”

The union and the company said the breakthrough came during mediation sessions meant to resolve an intellectual property lawsuit the company filed against the union. Starbucks had claimed Starbucks Workers United had violated its trademarks through its name and logo, and was “diluting” its brand.

Starbucks has long said it would prefer to have a “direct” relationship with its baristas and opposed the union campaign, which began in Western New York but quickly spread to states around the country. Administrative law judges at the labor board have ruled in dozens of cases that Starbucks violated labor law by firing and punishing union activists ― findings that dented Starbucks’ image as a progressive company and decent employer.

There are still dozens of complaints pending against Starbucks at the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that investigates and prosecutes union-busting claims. It’s not clear what impact, if any, the agreement announced Tuesday might have on those cases.

The union campaign has sought to pressure the company through strikes, protests and efforts on college campuses to force schools to cut ties with the coffee chain due the labor disputes. It has also received an assist from progressive lawmakers in Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who held a Senate hearing last year, and pressured former CEO and cofounder Howard Schultz to testify under threat of subpoena.

Starbucks Workers United said on Twitter that the new agreement was “made possible by thousands and thousands of us joining together and speaking out.”

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