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Spilling the Beans About Starbucks' Union-Busting Tactics

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Put down that grande non-fat caramel macchiato or whatever Starbucks concoction you're drinking. Turns out the coffee giant has a nasty history of being anti-barista, anti-union, and thus anti-Employee Free Choice Act as well.

The National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly found Starbucks guilty of illegally terminating, harassing, intimidating, and discriminating against employees attempting to unionize. Late last year, a judge ruled Starbucks had committed over a dozen violations of the National Labor Relations Act at a few New York stores. Starbucks has settled five such labor disputes in the last few years in New York, Minnesota, and Michigan, spending millions on legal fees to avoid exposing their anti-worker ways.

To make matters worse, Starbucks has led the charge on a so-called Employee Free Choice Act "compromise," joining Costco and Whole Foods to form the Committee for Level Playing Field. This Orwellian-sounding group has come up with a "third way" on Employee Free Choice, which would require 70 percent of workers to sign union authorization cards instead of the far more manageable 50 percent initially proposed by this legislation.

We've known for a while where Starbucks' billionaire CEO Howard Schultz stands on unions. After all, it was Schultz who once said that if workers "had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn't need a union." Yet Starbucks pretends to be pro-barista, claiming to offer workers decent wages and health insurance. The reality is the company insures less than 42 percent of its 127,000 baristas in the U.S. As Liza Featherstone recently reported, even Wal-Mart, a company notorious for its anti-labor practices, insures 47 percent of its employees.

Like Wal-Mart, Starbucks offers its workers low wages averaging $7.75 an hour, and Starbucks also refuses to guarantee workers set hours. Instead, the company adheres to an Optimal Scheduling policy that requires baristas to make themselves available 70 percent of open store hours just to work full time in any given week. This means low-wage earning baristas often don't have time to take a second job. Moreover, it precludes tens of thousands of Starbucks employees from working the 240 hours per quarter needed to qualify for the company's health insurance.

Starbucks' ethical reputation is misleading, its "progressive" policies less substantive than the company's frothy beverages. Sign the memo to Howard Schultz insisting he allow workers to unionize.

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