October 05, 2022

Warren, Sanders, Markey, Blumenthal Blast Starbucks for Brazen, Illegal Union-Busting Campaign

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, D.C. – U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and chair of the 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. 

“Starbucks is engaged in a brazen union-busting campaign, weaponizing benefits and wage increases to discourage workers from organizing – all while reaping massive profits,” said Senator Warren. “It’s beyond time for Starbucks to end these unethical and unlawful practices, and bargain in good faith with workers exercising their right to form a union.”

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. 

Senator Warren is an outspoken advocate for the right of workers to unionize. In September 2022, Senator Warren reintroduced the Nationwide Right to Unionize Act, legislation that would support the right to unionize by prohibiting states from banning union security agreements through “right-to-work” laws and is an original cosponsor of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. She also recently denounced the NLRB’s proposed rule to deny workplace rights to graduate students employed by private universities, has also cosponsored legislation to strengthen protections for employees under federal labor law, and has supported graduate student unionization efforts at schools in Massachusetts, including Harvard University and Boston College. In addition, she has fought for the enforcement of ethics rules at the NLRB, and strongly opposed efforts by the NLRB to narrow its joint employer standard in the Hy-Brand case, which was vacated after the senator raised concerns about a conflict of interest involving a board member.