Outgoing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has made no secret that he doesn’t believe in unions, but has now revealed he thinks the union movement gripping the coffee giant is a sign of trouble larger social groups in America.
In an interview with CNN broadcast on Tuesday, Schultz suggested that the rise of work organization — which has also affected big companies like Amazon, Apple and Tesla — was a symptom of deeper societal problems.
“I’m convinced that the organizing efforts in America are in many ways a manifestation of a much bigger problem,” he said. “There’s a macro issue here that’s much, much bigger than Starbucks. I’ve spoken to thousands of Starbucks partners, and I’ve been shocked, stunned to hear the loneliness, the anxiety, the breakup of trust in government, broken trust in business, broken trust in family, lack of hope in terms of opportunity.”
Starbucks refers to its employees as partners.
Starbucks ‘lost its way culturally’
Schultz, who helped Starbucks embark on its rapid expansion in the 1980s and 1990s and nearly ran for president in 2020told CNN’s Poppy Harlow that he returned to the company as interim CEO to restore his employees’ confidence in the company.
“I came back last year because the company really got lost, and it got lost culturally,” he admitted. “The unions showed up because Starbucks was not leading in a way that was consistent with its history as a values-based company and I came back to essentially restore those values.”
Schultz will be “completely transitioned” out of the role CEO next month, and told Harlow he would definitely be done running the company once and for all when he stepped down.
However, he insisted that the labor issues that plagued his third and final term at Starbucks would not harm his legacy or that of the company.
“The Starbucks story has been that we’ve been a compassionate company,” he said. “The union issue is one of the many issues Starbucks faces.”
He added that the organizing movement was “not an existential threat” to the global coffee chain.
“I recognize that Starbucks partners have the right to unionize, but we have the right, as a company, to create the vision for the company, which the vast, vast majority of Starbucks partners embrace,” he said. he declared.
Starbucks Workers United union representatives were not immediately available for comment on Schultz’s interview when contacted by Fortune.
The Starbucks Syndicate Puzzle
Schultz returned to lead Starbucks for the third time last April as he faced an unprecedented organizing drive.
As of the end of last year, more than 300 Starbucks stores in dozens of states held trade union electionswith a union barista narrative The Guardian in November that many workers joining the movement felt that the company did not “treat us like human beings”.
More than 260 of the 9,000 Starbucks company-operated stores have voted to unionize since the end of 2021, with members look for things like better wages and benefits, paid sick leave, and better health care coverage.
Schultz said in Tuesday’s interview that the company was already delivering “unprecedented benefits, not because a union told us to, but because of (the) company’s conscience.”
Company benefits include paid parental leave, tuition reimbursement, medical coverage and discounted company stock.
Schultz has made no secret of his feelings about unionization in the past, putting the company in direct opposition and saying it works best when it works directly with its staff.
“I am not an anti-union person. I’m pro-Starbucks, pro-partner, pro-Starbucks culture,” Schultz would have told the town hall with employees last year. “We didn’t come here having a union.”
In a letter to American employees shortly after the start of his third term as CEO, Schultz urged staff to resist “collusion with outside union forces”.
“I don’t believe that the strife, division and divisiveness – which has been at the center of union organizing – benefits Starbucks or our (employees),” he said.
Under Schultz’s leadership over the past 10 months, Starbucks has found itself increasingly at odds with unions, with the coffee chain accused of retaliating against union workers by closing their stores or forcing them out of their job.
Despite bargaining efforts, more than 1,000 U.S. employees at the company staged a three-day strike late last year, the second major strike at Starbucks in a month.
Earlier this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chairs a committee on labor issues, and 10 other lawmakers invited Schultz to testify in Congress about Starbucks’ compliance with federal labor laws. Schultz declined the invitationbut offered to send another executive in his place.
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