The Starbucks corporation is pushing back into the office

Dozens of white-collar workers Starbucks The employees and managers of the Corp. signed an open letter protesting the company’s back-to-the-office mandate and its alleged union busting, opening a new front in the battle over the apparently progressive coffee chain’s treatment of employees this.

“We love Starbucks, but these actions have destroyed trust in Starbucks leadership,” the workers wrote in their letter, which was sent to senior executives and board members and will be posted on a website Wednesday. “Morale is at an all-time low, and the brand reputation and financial value of this publicly traded company is at risk.” Both violated the unionization rights of baristas, and subjected white-collar workers to an abrupt back-to-office order, the letter argued, reflecting the same problem: “Not listening to colleagues.”

“We believe in Starbucks, we believe in its core values, and we are calling for a return to those values,” the white-collar workers wrote.

Collective activism by headquarters staff is increasing pressure on incoming Chief Executive Officer Laxman Narasimhan to resolve a bitter dispute with Starbucks Workers United, the labor group that last year organized several hundred at the chain. at 9,000 corporate-operated US locations. It could also be a prelude to unionization efforts eventually by white-collar workers at Starbucks itself, who argue that the company has violated values ​​that should keep it separate.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has repeatedly denied violating labor laws and said all claims of anti-union activity there are “false.”

The letter was signed by about four dozen white-collar workers, who organizers said also represented others who withheld their names for fear of retaliation. Starbucks employs about 258,000 people in the US, with 248,000 of those in company-operated stores, according to data released by the company. The rest work in corporate support, store development, roasting, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution.

In January, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sent out a memo requiring workers within commuting distance to return to the office three days a week. He told the white-collar staff that the baristas were “asking us to do transformative work that I believe can only be effective if we are physically together.”

The employees said their protest letter grew out of online discussions over the past few months that were triggered by part of Schultz’s January email. It also reflected long-standing dismay among some white-collar workers over Starbucks’ response to the union campaign, which U.S. labor board prosecutors alleged included illegal threats and the termination of nearly 50 activists. Workers United barista-activists and organizers advise new efforts of white-collar workers.

Starbucks’ business appears unaffected by worker morale and union fighting: The coffee chain result strong in recent quarters, except in China, where a Covid outbreak after the end of restrictions dented sales. North American consumers have proven willing so far to fork over more for their lattes and frappuccinos, while transactions have also increased. Shares are up about 3% this year, slightly trailing the S&P 500 Index’s gains.

The workers behind the letter say the company’s anti-union efforts punish baristas who “challenge the status quo,” while arguing that the back-to-office order will harm productivity, morale, flexibility and sustainability. .

“After Howard issued his order, I definitely didn’t feel good working for Starbucks anymore — I felt like I was working for a dictator,” said Starbucks app developer Peter de Jesus, one of the employee who signed the letter. “I feel like this is not the Starbucks I signed up for.”

De Jesus said he hopes the letter will help show many co-workers that they are not alone in feeling unheard by management. “A lot of people just want to air their grievances and their demands, and hope for change,” he said. “If this does not lead to any meaningful change, then the next step is obviously to think about a possible merger.”

Manager involvement

The organizers and signatories of the letter include some managers, whose workplace advocacy carries particular risks. Federal labor law guarantees most employees the right to take collective action regarding their working conditions, including unionization efforts. But that law does not cover managers, instead leaving executives with more authority to demand that they toe the company line.

“As a general matter, supervisors and managers have no rights under this law,” said former National Labor Relations Board member Wilma Liebman, who served as chair of the federal agency under President Barack Obama. Obama.

While companies are generally free to fire managers for complaining about working conditions, retaliating against them can still be illegal if it is done to interfere with employees’ hourly freedom to organize, he said. Liebman. The labor board has ruled, for example, that it is illegal to fire managers for refusing to engage in illegal behavior.

The employees behind the letter say they hope to come forward as a group to prevent punitive measures against them. They also seek to help change the course of the company in ways that recent judge rulings and letters to lawmakers condemning alleged union busting have not.

See also: Starbucks stands firm in union battle amid mounting government pressure

“Many of us stand up in the hope that the more people stand up, the less we worry about retaliation,” said engineering manager Cyril Bouanna, who works on tools including Starbucks’ mobile phone app.

The letter follows a internal survey last year showing the faith of corporate employees in the company’s ethics and social impact fell to historic lows amid union fighting and back office policies. Employees of companies like Inc. and Walt Disney Co. also pushed. orders to return to the office after a long period of remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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