House Democrats slam Starbucks for ‘union busting, intimidation and retaliation’

A group of House Democrats sent a scathing letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on Friday, accusing the coffee chain of using its workplace benefits as a knife against unionized baristas.

“We are closely monitoring Starbucks’ broad strategy of union busting, intimidation and retaliation against workers,” they wrote in the letter, which is posted below.

Illinois representatives Jan Schakowsky and Chuy Garcia spearheaded the mission. Lawmakers have asked Starbucks to clarify its new workers’ compensation policy for abortion-related travel expenses after the Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

In a June letter to employees about the new benefit, Starbucks said “all associates” enrolled in the company’s health care plan will have access to it. However, the letter added that when it comes to unionized stores, “Starbucks cannot make any promises or guarantees of any benefits” because the two sides are negotiating contracts.

Lawmakers called on Schultz to “immediately issue clear guidance on” the abortion care benefit. They warned that if the company continues its “scorched earth policy toward organized labor,” they will consider terminating any operating rights the company may have on federal property.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The union campaigner, Starbucks Workers United, accused the company of being deliberately vague about whether baristas would still be eligible for travel allowance if their store forms a union. According to Starbucks, travel expenses would be covered if an employee could not get an abortion within 100 miles of their home.

“Starbucks set it up on purpose so it was confusing whether or not baristas had access to this benefit,” said Casey Moore, a Starbucks worker involved in the union campaign. “People were asking, ‘Do we have it or don’t we?’ The managers didn’t have the answer. They were saying conflicting things all over the country.”

House Democrats say Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is preparing threats and retaliation.
House Democrats say Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is preparing threats and retaliation.

The Washington Post via Getty Images

In the June letter to employees, Starbucks said that “even if we bring a particular benefit to the bargaining table, a union could decide to trade it for something else.”

The union has been locked in a bitter battle with Starbucks while organizing more than 250 stores across the country in the past year. Workplace benefits are one of the main battlefronts.

Starbucks presented a number of new benefits and wage increases, but noted that it could not “unilaterally” implement some of them at unionized stores. By law, employers cannot make certain changes to pay and benefits without consulting the union.

But the union, Workers United, has waived its right to negotiate these new benefits, telling Starbucks to go ahead and implement them in union cafeterias. In response, Starbucks says benefits must be negotiated with other proposals.

Although Starbucks says health care-related benefits are not being withheld, the union says managers have told workers they could lose benefits by unionizing.

On Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel issued a complaint saying, among other charges, that the company used transgender health benefits as a threat. Starbucks says the gender-affirming caregiving allowance applies to all workers with health coverage, whether they are unionized or not. However, the complaint alleges that a store manager in Ithaca, New York, warned employees that they could lose it if they unionized.

The complaint was one of several issued by the board’s general counsel accusing Starbucks of withholding or threatening to withhold benefits to punish union supporters and appease other workers in the organization.

In their letter Friday, House Democrats said Starbucks is using employee health care as a “weapon.”

“While Starbucks has accused various outside groups of interfering with unionization efforts,” they wrote, “it is Starbucks that is weaponizing access to basic health care to intimidate and discourage employees from organizing.”

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