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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s History of Union-Busting

Schultz has been battling the Starbucks unionization movement since the 1980s.

Starbucks’ union movement has pushed CEO Kevin Johnson into retirement. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is being brought back to take his place as interim CEO. Schultz is a union-buster with a record spanning decades.

Howard Schultz has been virulently anti-union since the 1980s. Schultz created Starbucks by merging two coffee chains. One was unionized — that’s why employees have decent benefits. Schultz made life hell for workers, ran a union-busting campaign, and got them to disband the union.

His 1999 memoir, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, directly addresses his disdain toward unionization. “I was convinced that under my leadership, employees would come to realize that I would listen to their concerns. If they had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn’t need a union,” Schultz writes.

In the late 90s, Starbucks workers tried to unionize again. That brought a ferocious campaign to stop them — which they overcame to win their election at a single store. It was a short-lived success because of the threats and intimidation that followed.

Schultz’s Starbucks continued to fight workers that wanted to organize over the next 20 years. In 2004, a number of cafes tried to unionize. Starbucks ran with many of the same union-busting tactics they’re using today. Back then, they worked. His anti-union vitriol decimated unions organized with International Workers of the World, Operating Engineers Local, and a local branch of United Food and Commerical Workers, respectively.

After Barack Obama became president, it looked as if Democrats were going to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made unionizing much easier. Schultz lobbied against it over and over again, tried to offer worse options, and helped kill it.

More recently, Starbucks has been found by the NLRB to have illegally fired workers who wanted to unionize. And when Schultz left Starbucks to float his third “centrist” presidential run, he famously said, “unions are not the answer.”

Last November Schultz traveled to bust the powerful union drive in Buffalo. There Schultz’s infamous speech went awry when he compared Starbucks workers to Holocaust victims sharing their blankets at concentration camps. “So much of that story is threaded into what we do at Starbucks is share our blanket,” Schultz said to a ballroom of Starbucks workers.

While the comparison created discomfort for Starbucks workers, it only motivated the unionizing workers more. Now there are six unionized Starbucks and 130+ more voting this spring.

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