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EXCLUSIVE: Leaked Starbucks Memo Instructs Managers to Lie About Pay, Benefits

An internal memo sent to store managers contains talking points that amount to union-busting.

Howard Schultz

by Jordan Zakarin

Starbucks corporate management is instructing store and regional managers to lie about wages and benefits to workers across the country. 

An internal memo sent to store managers and obtained by More Perfect Union outlines the additional benefits that the company plans to provide starting this fall. The benefits, most notably a one-time raise, are being implemented in response to the rapid success of the unionization campaign being waged by Starbucks Workers United. The benefits are also being used as a way to punish workers at the more than 150 stores that have voted to join the union and scare other workers out of organizing their stores.

In an FAQ intended to provide managers with talking points for meetings with workers, the company says that it is “bound by federal labor law,” which it claims “dictates that we do not have the right to promise or unilaterally implement investments for partners where there is union activity.”

Anticipating pushback, Starbucks also tells managers to inform workers that while the union can demand the same wage increases during bargaining, it “doesn’t mean that it will be included in the final contract.”

This is an oft-repeated talking point delivered by Starbucks executives, including CEO Howard Schultz, and one that labor law experts unanimously refute. 

“If they give benefits to unorganized workers and not to organizing ones, then that’s an unfair labor practice,” said Kate Broffenbrenner, the Director of Labor Education Research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told More Perfect Union last month

“Once workers are unionized, they have to bargain over changes,” Broffenbrenner added. “So if Starbucks says they’re offering new benefits, they have to offer them to union workers and give them an opportunity to say whether they want them or not. They can give it to nobody or give it to everybody.”

In an earlier attempt to stave off organizing last October, Starbucks promised raises to every store but the six locations in Buffalo that kicked off the union drive several months earlier. Those raises, which provide a 2-3% bump, go into effect at the end of August. Every non-union store will soon receive 3-7% raises.

Though the memo to store managers promises that the company will bargain in good faith with the union, Schultz last week publicly stated that Starbucks has no intention of ever engaging with Workers United in a way that would allow for long-term worker representation.

The company says it will provide small updates to stores, including replacing store iPads and resolving repairs. Starbucks will also pay for workers to travel to receive abortions and gender-affirming care. Health care for gender-affirming care has frequently been threatened by store managers, several pro-union trans workers have told More Perfect Union.

Starbucks last week also sent workers a one-sheet that contains more details about the additional benefits and offers similar misleading warnings about what it can and cannot provide to workers at stores organized by the union. 

“In organizing stores, we are required to maintain the status quo during the election period,” the one-sheet claims. “In stores without any organizing activity, we can legally and unilaterally make improvements.”

Starbucks management has frequently told workers at non-union stores to wait to see the first union contract before proceeding with organizing. By refusing to negotiate in good faith with any of the stores while retaliating against stores that have successfully voted to unionize, the company hopes to slow the pace of NLRB filings, which has shown no sign of losing momentum.

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