Starbucks CEO Schultz raked over coals by Sanders in the Senate / by Mark Gruenberg

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz smugly drinks from a Starbucks mug as he is grilled by Sen. Bernie Sanders at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, Wednesday, March 29, 2023, in Washington. Sam Amato, left, of Buffalo, N.Y., listens in. Amato is a member of Starbucks Workers United and says he was illegally fired from Starbucks after 13 years. | All photos: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Originally published in the People’s World on March 30, 2023

WASHINGTON—In an often-contentious 4-1/2-hour Senate hearing, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz denied, ducked and stonewalled workers’ reports and National Labor Relations Board findings of the monster coffee chain’s constant, centrally-controlled and nationwide labor law-breaking.

Senate Labor Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., led off the March 29 session by declaring of Schultz that “Even if he’s a multimillionaire, he’s not entitled to break the law.”

Things went downhill from there when Schultz was in the witness chair.

Whenever Sanders and other committee Democrats, using worker statements and evidence unearthed by the NLRB in a 218-page order banning Starbucks’s constant labor law-breaking in Buffalo and nationwide, tried to get the ex-CEO to promise to obey the law—or at least come to the bargaining table with workers of the 300 Starbucks stores who have unionized so far—he refused.

Instead, Schultz claimed his team scheduled 85 face-to-face meetings with workers at individual stores. But when workers elsewhere zoomed in, his bargainers left. Wrapping himself in privacy concerns, Schultz claimed they did so because the sessions could divulge personal information.

One late witness, after Schultz finished, former NLRB member and veteran labor lawyer Sharon Block, put the Starbucks unionization campaign, and the company’s reaction, into a national context, and not just one of fed-up low-wage workers unionizing for protection, recognition and financial improvements.

Those are all true. But Block added that in her decades of writing labor law as a congressional staffer, enforcing it at the NLRB and now teaching it at Harvard, she has never seen such widespread defiance by any company. And if Starbucks gets away with it, she warned, other firms will be even more emboldened to resist, defy and break labor law against workers.

Before that, Schultz kept denying every single labor-law breaking charge thrown at him by the workers and the NLRB. So far, there are more than 500 charges, formally called unfair labor practices. And Schultz kept returning to Starbucks’s supposed reputation as a caring company. The Starbucks workers, testifying later, refuted him.

Operating from the grass roots

The workers, operating from the grass-roots but aided by Starbucks Workers United, have won union recognition votes at more than 300 Starbucks stores nationwide, and triumphed in 83% of all elections. They’ve also had to file more than 1,200 labor law-breaking complaints to the NLRB.

“You cannot be pro-people and anti-union,” Tennessee worker Maggie Carter said.

Carter and Jayson Saxton, an illegally fired worker from Augusta, Ga., testified after Schultz’s 3-1/2 hours in the witness chair. They told quite a different story of company pursuit of profits, low pay, lousy working conditions and severe discipline, all of which and more drove them to unionize.

Now ex-CEO Schultz, who’s worth $3.7 billion and who made $21 million in total compensation last year, dismissed their charges, along with those in the NLRB’s ruling, or denied knowing anything about them. When one Republican asked him how much top Starbucks execs made, he ducked.

Meanwhile, Carter and Saxton brought walking, talking evidence of how Starbucks mistreats its “partners,” as the company calls workers, when they try to unionize to protect and better themselves.

It was a tale of forced captive audience meetings, discrimination in hours and transfers between stores, benefits offered to non-union store workers but denied to those in unionized stores—using labor law as an excuse—minimum wages until last May and no health coverage through an already expensive company policy if you worked fewer than 20 hours a week.

And there were arbitrary cuts in hours, too, Saxton said. In one three-week period, a worker could go from 25 hours—qualifying for coverage—to five hours to 15.

Single mom Carter told senators Starbucks retaliated against her union organizing by holding up her transfer request from Jackson, Tenn., to Knoxville, Tenn., for three months. She had to quit while awaiting a decision, and that denied the health benefits she needed for her child. Carter wanted to transfer to Knoxville so she could go to college part-time.

Pro-union workers “were getting disciplined for minor violations” like dress code variations, she added. When the union won the Jackson vote—its first win in the South—on March 29, 2022, Starbucks retaliated “by walking out after 30 minutes” of their first bargaining session. “And on May 3, they said we wouldn’t get any” benefits that were promised to non-union store workers.

Schultz’s reason, repeated over and over to senators? Labor law, he claimed, bans additional benefits during an organizing drive—even when the union waives its right to contest those increases.

And Starbucks’s “captive audience” meeting in Jackson had an extra twist due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Such meetings, which feature anti-union harangues by bosses, union busters or both—and discipline if you don’t attend—are common.

Worked from Day 1 of pandemic

“I worked—we all worked—from Day 1 of the pandemic” in Jackson, Carter explained. “It was the only one that stayed open” despite the spreading modern-day plague. She was paid $8.35 an hour. This past May, Starbucks raised all baristas to $17.50, an outcome one speaker said was due to the union drive.

“They brought in a manager from outside we had never seen before” for a captive audience meeting, she said. “We weren’t told we didn’t have to attend.” Schultz says Starbucks prefers “direct communication” with workers—a common employer argument.

“This manager gave us Covid. We had to shut the store down for five days.”

Saxton, an illegally fired Starbucks worker from Augusta, Ga., and a partially disabled veteran, said even before the firm canned him for organizing its store there, it cut his hours so much he lost its already costly health insurance. That retaliation meant he had to go back to the local Veterans Administration clinic for his care, but also left his wife and child without coverage.

After the firm fired an Augusta manager for being too sympathetic to the workers, it brought in an anti-union manager “who moved everything around every day. Then she wrote down names” for discipline when disoriented workers couldn’t find the new locations of the machines.

“They were definitely engaging in anti-union activity,” Saxton said.

If Starbucks beats the unionization drive by dragging it through the board and the courts, using its wealth to produce interminable delays to wear down the grass-roots workers and their union backers, Starbucks Workers United, that sends a message to rest of the corporate class, said Block.

“What has happened” at Starbucks “is not just a collection of individual violations. It is a coordinated company campaign that shows the company has the will, the stamina and the resources” to defeat any union organizing drive.

“What will other workers around the country think of when they see Starbucks can do this?”

Her answer: “Workers rights” in the U.S. “are as weak as a Starbucks coffee cup.”

Video of the hearing is at

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).

Info-Picketing Starbucks Stores for Valentine’s Day / by CP Maine Staff

Today, Starbucks workers and their allies were out in front of over one hundred stores across the nation, explaining to customers that union-busting not only hurts workers, but customers too.

Biddeford Maine Starbucks |

They informed customers about the impact of the company’s reduction of labor hours on customer service and working conditions. This, they explained, was the reason for the longer wait times customers are experiencing. They asked customers for their support, requesting that they sign the “No Contract, No Coffee Pledge.”

Customers received flyers that stated, “Starbucks thinks there are too many workers making your order, so they are cutting labor and you are paying the price. Same cost to you, but double the wait times, and less time connecting with our community.”

Handing out flyers outside the Starbucks store on Congress Street in Portland, Maine, Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) supporters said that their interactions with customers and other passersby were overwhelmingly positive.

Valentine’s Day may be all about “sharing the love,” but today Starbucks workers and allies decided to share with the people “the love they lack from the company whose profits are soaring.”

“Starbucks is cutting labor hours despite record breaking profits year after year,” according to a recent SBWU statement, “[t]his causes workers to be financially stressed and overworked, and it causes customers to experience significantly longer wait times. We’re asking customers to stand with the over 7,000 baristas who have joined Starbucks Workers United as we fight this retaliation.”

The SBWU is making good on its promise to increase its efforts to enlist the company’s customers as allies in its nationwide organizing drive.

The SBWU is asking supporters to sign this pledge:

Starbucks Workers United

Maine News: Biddeford Starbucks Workers File to Unionize / by Andy O’Brien

Credit: Libby March for the Washington Post via Getty Images

Starbucks workers at a store location in Biddeford announced their intent to unionize last week, joining hundreds of Starbucks employees at 260 of the company’s stores across the country who have filed for union elections.

In a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz, the workers at Store #48490 said the decision “comes from a love for our store and communities.” However, they pointed that while Starbucks’ profits are soaring, the employees are overworked, underpaid and “burnt to the core.” The letter reads in part:

We are tired. We’ve continued to make every moment mean something, even though our hours have been cut drastically, our income threatened and our benefits taken away. Starbucks has decreased training hours significantly over the past few years. It is unrealistic to support incoming partners with such a short span of time, on top of the insufficient staffing. We are struggling daily on a mental, emotional and physical level. We’ve had to pick up second jobs to provide for ourselves and our families. Our pay rates fail to compete with the rising costs of living.

The Biddeford workers also complained that the company is putting them and their customers at risk for COVID exposure by forcing employees to come into work sick.

“It’s become clear to us that Starbucks has chosen to put profits over its partners,” they wrote.

By unionizing, they said said they hope to “rebuild the company that once valued us as partners.”

“We want empathy, respect and transparency. If you insist on calling us partners, then treat us as such,” they wrote. “We are the face of Starbucks. We deserve a seat at the table to have our voices heard and dignified. We demand that Starbucks recognize our legal right to unionize and refrain from underhanded , illegal anti-union tactics at our store. Enough is enough.”

The letter was signed by Starbucks employees Ash Macomber, Preslee Jennings, Chloe Hoecker, Chloe Corral, Ashley Tomah, Stephanie Elliot and “others who wish to remain anonymous.”

Andy O’Brien is the communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO.

Maine AFL-CIO Weekly Update, May 19, 2022,

Starbucks Workers Have Filed to Unionize 200 Stores / by Sharon Zhang

Picket signs are pictured at a rally in support of workers of two Seattle Starbucks locations that announced plans to unionize, during an evening rally at Cal Anderson Park in Seattle, Washington, on January 25, 2022 | Jason Redmond – AFP via Getty Images

This week, Starbucks workers hit a milestone of 200 stores filing to unionize. The union has doubled the number of filings in just over six weeks, with more stores joining the movement at a remarkable pace.

As noted by More Perfect Union, the milestone marks an acceleration in the union drive. The first 100 stores filed for unionization over the course of about 172 days; the second 100 stores took only 48 days. Stores are now filing at an average of more than two stores a day, and have filed in 30 states. Union filings cover over 5,000 workers across the country.

The milestone also comes as Starbucks Workers United has doubled the number of stores that have successfully formed a union. Just about a month ago, six stores had voted to unionize; as of yesterday, 13 stores had voted to form a union, with more elections in the pipeline.

Three stores in Rochester, New York, won a union after their votes were counted on Thursday, marking the first stores in Rochester to unionize. There are now unionized stores in New York, Arizona, Washington and Tennessee, including the company’s flagship roastery in New York City.

“My heart is so full. I couldn’t be more proud of the strength, patience, and perseverance our team demonstrated throughout this very difficult transition,” said Michaela Wagstaff, a shift supervisor and union organizer at a suburban Rochester store, at a press conference. “To others who wish to begin this journey, it’s real and it’s possible. To those who paved the way, thank you for allowing us to learn from you and rely on you.”

Starbucks Workers United has won all but one of its union elections so far, despite a harsh union-busting campaign from the company, which appears to be escalating its tactics as the union secures more wins. The company has been firing pro-union workers in attempts to quash union efforts; though retaliating against workers for unionizing is illegal, labor charges can take months or years to investigate, meaning that the union vote could be compromised even if the company is later found to have been breaking the law.

Recently, Starbucks fired union organizer Laila Dalton, a worker in Phoenix, Arizona, who the labor board found was previously illegally retaliated against by the company. Dalton, the only Black person at her store, was threatened by managers and Starbucks HR, who interrogated her over her union organizing and asked if she had made false accusations of racism.

The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over Dalton’s firing, saying that her firing was a violation of labor laws. The NLRB previously found the firing of another Phoenix union organizer, Alyssa Sanchez, to be illegal.

Meanwhile, the company has spent likely millions of dollars on its anti-union efforts. It recently fired its top general counsel Rachel Gonzalez, who received $5.3 million in compensation last year, according to Bloomberg Law. The termination is likely related to the union-busting drive, which interim CEO Howard Schultz appears to be planning to escalate.

In a town hall with workers on his first day as interim CEO on Monday, Schultz said that companies like Starbucks are “being assaulted in many ways by the threat of unionization.” He referred to unions as “outside organizations” that are driving a wedge between management and employees — even though union organizers have repeatedly insisted that the workers themselves make up the union, and that the only party creating division is management.

Workers have repeatedly asked Schultz and former CEO Kevin Johnson to sign onto their “Fair Election Principles,” which outline non-interference guidelines for the company.

“We know that this is a victory and we will celebrate it as such, but we won’t feel true success until Starbucks signs the Fair Election Principles to allow others the room to truly engage in an unbiased election,” said Maggie Carter, an organizer in Knoxville, Tennessee, when the Knoxville store won their union last week. “This company can do so much better for us, and we can’t wait to show the entire country exactly what that looks like.”

Sharon Zhang is a news writer at Truthout.

Truthout, April 8, 2022,

How the Starbucks Worker Organizing Model Can Accelerate Unionization Across the Country / by Shuvu Bhattarai

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez meets with Starbucks Workers United members who are working to unionize their store in Astoria, Queens, New York, on March 27, 2022. (Starbucks Astoria Blvd / Twitter)

A Starbucks union drive is sweeping across the country. In an industry that has been all but impossible to unionize, these baristas have created an organizing model that can be replicated at similar corporate chains everywhere.

The Starbucks Workers United campaign, having secured National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election victories at six out of seven stores, with well over 150 stores filing for an NLRB election as of last week, is one of the most invigorating labor campaigns in recent US history.

The Starbucks workers currently spearheading the SB Workers United drive have charted a way forward for organizing corporate chain stores. Their strategy should be carefully studied and implemented across other corporate chains and adjusted according to context.

The story of SB Workers United begins in Elmwood Park, Buffalo, in 2019, when some Starbucks workers, many of them inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign and affiliated with socialist organizations, reached out to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)–affiliated union Workers United to talk about unionizing.

After over a year of underground organizing, the campaign went public on August 23, with the workers posting a declaration of the intent to unionize to Starbucks Corporate on Twitter through their own account. The workers chose to call themselves Starbucks Workers United and created a website with basic educational resources for Starbucks workers across the country about why they should form a union, as well as contact information for workers seeking to organize.

With their declaration made public, the union drive drew the coverage of various corporate media outlets and entered into public consciousness. Interest in unionizing Starbucks was sparked across the country, with workers reaching out to Starbucks Workers United and Starbucks customers directly talking to workers about the importance of unions.

With the victory of the first NLRB election at the Elmwood Park store on December 6, 2021, the first Starbucks store in the United States was unionized. This generated enormous media attention, and Starbucks Workers United received a flurry of unionization requests from workers around the country. The media attention of the union effort generated mass interest from workers, and the website allowed for this interest to be converted to action.

After the NLRB ruled on February 26 in a decision involving the Mesa, Arizona, Starbucks that organizing a union in a single store is appropriate, SB Workers United’s particular method of organizing through rapid NLRB elections was legitimized, paving the way in the short term for similar drives to take place. This must be exploited.

Baristas Take the Lead

From its beginning to the present, the SB Workers United union campaign has been a worker-driven project. The union staff of Workers United, the union which SB Workers United is seeking to join, have played a critical but supporting role during this drive. Workers United is given the leads of workers seeking to unionize by Starbucks Workers United. The staff organizers set up meetings with the union-interested workers, taking them through the process of charting their stores, preparing themselves for management backlash, and filing for a union election.

In stark contrast to some other union campaigns in fast food in which the staff organizers handle the bulk of organizing activity, in the case of Starbucks Workers United, the staff function as an educational resource for the Starbucks workers. The primary organizers of the SB Workers United campaign are the Starbucks workers themselves.

As of this writing, workers in only six stores are members of the Workers United union, but all of the Starbucks workers who have filed NLRB petitions and many more who have begun the process of organizing are all members of SB Workers United. SB Workers United is independent of Workers United. While not legally recognized, SB Workers United is already a union with over a thousand members across the country.

The SB Workers United union has its own national steering committee and various working groups that direct the strategy of the campaign. Through the creation of a space that encourages the creative talents and energies of enthusiastic workers, SB Workers United has been able to create a wealth of material, including community support guides, various social media outlets, and pro-union artwork, to build a highly resilient and capable movement that only continues to grow.

Though SB Workers United represents a small minority of all Starbucks workers, it has enough of a force to compel Starbucks to spend millions of dollars in its growing anti-union campaign, announce wage increases to try to head off the threat of a union contract, and even force former CEO Howard Schultz out of retirement. With a recent strike in Denver and the organization of rallies around the country in defense of fired pro-union workers, SB Workers United has already demonstrated that it can use weapons like strikes and community mobilization to win its demands.

A Reproducible Method

If we boil the SB Workers United Campaign down to its essentials, we’re left with a worker organizing method for corporate chains that can be sparked by any organization with sufficient labor and resources. The SB Workers United organizing history is summarized as follows:

  • A core group of class-conscious workers reaches out to a local union to take steps towards winning legal union recognition.
  • Workers create a separate, independent, and informal union called Starbucks Workers United, which handles media strategy and creates a central point of contact (a website) to which inspired workers around the country can reach out.
  • SB Workers United goes public with the notice of NLRB elections, which draws media attention.
  • Each victory is highly publicized, drawing in new worker leads through the SB Workers United website, which then sends them to professional union staff for training and support in organizing local stores.

The key to the success of SB Workers United is that they have built an independent organization of workers seeking to unionize, so that the workers themselves are the ones who lead the campaign. The critical role of outside organizations (Workers United) is to provide the Starbucks workers with the strategic advice and the technical tools necessary to win.

How can their strategy be utilized to spark strong union campaigns for other corporate chains?

The answer to this question is that a method must be developed to build a core of class-conscious and militant workers across the corporate chain and to develop those workers to be effective organizers and leaders of the campaign. The greatest barrier to organizing chain stores is that class-conscious workers are isolated from one another. For this reason, developing a central point of contact should be the first step to unionizing, so that the workers who have the greatest interest in organizing will reach out to the central organizing body.

The method to organize corporate chains is as follows:

  • Build a central point of contact that workers seeking unionization can reach out to (like a website, email address, and social media accounts).
  • Focus on worker education, arming workers with knowledge of the steps to form a union and methods of creating support for unions within their workplace.
  • Having gathered and developed a core group of worker-organizers, connect the workers to each other to create the formation of a union outside the bounds of legality. At this stage, the workers must be prepared to take leadership of their union.
  • Build methods of public outreach for the new union group. Every chance to increase the visibility of the campaign, such as high-profile NLRB election victories, must be seized so that the most militant and inspired workers begin to reach out to the newly formed union.

With these basic steps, a new union will be birthed into existence. The nuances of the organization — its strategy, its ultimate mission, its leadership, its working groups — must be decided democratically by the workers themselves and are always subject to change depending on the changing conditions of the campaign.

Workers Themselves at the Helm

There are practical reasons why workers must be the ones driving and leading the unionization drive. For one, they are the ones who best understand and feel the numerous ways they are exploited by their management and thus are best able to develop tactics to use their shared conditions as a point of unity. Second, the common driving factor for workers seeking unionization is a lack of agency, which manifests itself in numerous forms: management abuse, poor pay, and unstable schedules. By creating a space where the workers are able to exert control over their workplace, through leadership of their unionization campaign, a space of empowerment is created that can bring forward the best from every worker. To create a force of highly motivated worker-organizers, worker control over strategy is an absolute precondition.

The SB Workers United drive is a clear reminder of what a union is in its essence. A union is formed not when the state recognizes it, but when the workers recognize it. A union is formed when workers have connected with each other and created an organization that reflects their collective will.

It is important to note that Workers United has only a handful of staff to help assist the Starbucks workers. With the ongoing success of the SB Workers United drive, volunteer- and resource-rich organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) could take it upon themselves to apply this model to other unorganized chains. Through initiatives like the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC) and numerous successful electoral campaigns, as well as DSA’s presence throughout the United States, the organization’s skilled members could help create a central point of contact for aspiring pro-union workers, provide education for the workers to organize and protect themselves from retaliation, fundraise for the workers, help workers with legal issues, and use its media expertise and connections to make sure the workers’ voices are heard far and wide. DSA could thus help workers organize across corporate chains, as EWOC has already begun to do.

The stunning growth of the SB Workers United movement has attracted support from labor unions, socialist organizations, community activists, and progressive forces throughout the country and has inspired numerous workers to challenge their bosses and reclaim their dignity. As this movement gains momentum, we can and should put our foot on the gas. Who knows where it could lead?

Shuvu Bhattarai is a Nepali-American labor organizer and a member of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America in Queens.

Jacobin, March 28, 2022,