Feb 27, 2024 - Business

Starbucks and Workers Union agree to start negotiations

A Starbucks worker wears a t-shirt and button promoting unionization

A Starbucks worker wears a t-shirt and button promoting unionization. Photo: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Starbucks and Workers United have agreed to begin discussions in hopes of reaching collective bargaining agreements, the coffee giant and union said Tuesday.

Why it matters: Starbucks' stance toward unionization has been softening in recent months and Tuesday's announcement signals a potentially huge shift for the company.

  • It also shows the staying power of the labor movement that surged in the wake of the pandemic.

What they're saying: "Starbucks and Workers United have agreed to begin discussions on a foundational framework designed to achieve both collective bargaining agreements for represented stores and partners, and the resolution of litigation between the union and the company," Starbucks said in a statement.

  • "As a sign of good faith, Starbucks has agreed to provide workers represented by Workers United with credit card tipping and benefits announced by the company in May of 2022," the union said in a statement shared with Axios.

The intrigue: Perhaps most surprising about Tuesday's announcement is Starbucks and the union issued nearly identical statements to reporters — signaling a level of coordination previously unheard of.

Zoom in: The first part of this new agreement will involve the company and the union resolving ongoing litigation over those benefits — and a dustup involving the Middle East conflict.

  • "We are deeply committed to...restitching the fabric of the green apron for all partners at Starbucks," said Sara Kelly, chief partner officer at the company, in a message online.

Reality check: It's still very early days; the union and the company are merely agreeing to talk about how to negotiate toward a contract. And Starbucks is committed to negotiating an individual contract for each of the more than 350 stores that have unionized — a potentially long and arduous process

Zoom out: Union organizing efforts have been a public relations headache for Starbucks since at least 2021 when a store in Buffalo became the first to vote for a union.

  • Starbucks' strategy shift began in March when Laxman Narasimhan took the CEO reins from founder Howard Schultz, who had repeatedly clashed with workers over unionizing.
  • In December, Starbucks vice president Sara Kelly sent a letter to Workers United saying the company wanted to restart bargaining.

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