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Starbucks Walks Out of Contract Negotiations With the Union

After months of delays, the first day of collective bargaining ended before it began after Starbucks objected to members of the union observing the meetings via Zoom.

After months of delays, the first day of collective bargaining between Starbucks and Starbucks Workers United ended before negotiations even began.

Representatives for the Seattle-based coffee shop conglomerate abruptly stood up and ended meetings with workers from all five of the unionized stores that were scheduled to bargain on Monday. In each instance, the company’s representatives objected to the digital presence of members of Starbucks Workers United’s national bargaining committee who were observing the in-person meeting over Zoom. 

Starbucks is being represented in negotiations by lawyers for Littler Mendelson, the massive union-busting firm that has run its anti-union campaign.

Workers from several of the stores — in Buffalo, New York; LaGrange, Kentucky; and Lakewood California — tell More Perfect Union that there were never any agreed upon ground rules established in advance of the negotiating sessions. In multiple cases, Starbucks’ representatives presented their own rules at the top of the meeting, including one rule that would have barred remote participants. 

The tentative agreement reached last January between workers in Buffalo and the company called for negotiations to be held over Zoom, and Starbucks has bargained remotely with workers in cities where it shut down unionized stores. But as More Perfect Union reported in September, Starbucks cut off negotiations with the Elmwood store in Buffalo for months until the union acquiesced to in-person sessions. 

“We agreed to start meeting in person but not that we would not have Zoom observers,” Brian Murray, a union leader from Buffalo, explained to More Perfect Union. 

In Lakewood, union members say they were presented the proposed rules upon their arrival. Aware that Starbucks has used arguments over unnecessary ground rules to run out the clock on previous sessions with workers in Buffalo and Arizona, they tried to avoid the debate entirely and move forward with negotiations, workers say. 

But there would be no exchange over a first collective bargaining agreement in these meetings, either. Citing fears that someone might record the meeting from the Zoom call, the company’s representatives walked out of each meeting, claiming that they needed to caucus privately and determine their next steps. Workers were left stranded for hours on end in hotel lobbies and conference rooms, waiting for a reemergence that has yet to occur.

“I’ll be here all night, I’m ready to bargain,” Fern Potter, a member of the bargaining committee at the unionized LeGrange store, told More Perfect Union from the Indiana hotel where talks were supposed to be held. “I’m ready to talk about what workers need and what workers deserve. I’ll be here for three weeks if I have to.”

It will likely take far longer than three weeks to obtain a contract. Starbucks has been firm in its intention to negotiate separately with every single one of the 250+ stores that has voted to unionize thus far. In September, the company sent out notices to 172 individual stores, inviting them to choose dates for bargaining sessions within a three week period in October. Union members from each store enthusiastically responded, and in many cases were assigned dates for their first sessions, only to have Starbucks move or even delay them indefinitely. 

Workers in Utah tell More Perfect Union that dates for most stores there were taken off the calendar entirely. Not one single store in the entire South was invited to negotiate. 

Even the smallest of changes can have major consequences for bargaining with a company that hands out shift schedules to workers three weeks in advance. The store in LaGrange was initially scheduled for October 27th before they settled on October 28th. The session was moved again to the 24th, and several workers were unable to get the day off to drive to Indiana and attend the meeting. Not that they missed much.

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