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Cornell Drops Starbucks After Company Shuttered All of Ithaca’s Unionized Stores

The decision came after students launched a campaign to get the university to end its contract with the company.

A demonstrator holds a Starbucks union sign as Starbucks workers stand with striking SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America (WGA) members on the picket line in solidarity outside Netflix studios on July 28, 2023, in Los Angeles, California.

Cornell University is ending a contract with Starbucks after the company permanently closed all three of its locations in Ithaca, New York, where the university is located, a year after the stores each voted to unionize.

The university announced on Wednesday that it will not renew its contract as part of the “We Proudly Serve Starbucks” program, under which the university’s cafes serve Starbucks products, when it expires in 2025.

The decision came after students launched a campaign pressuring the university to end the contract in response to the store closings. Activists marched to the president’s office and staged a sit-in to protest the university’s involvement with the company, arguing the university should not use students’ tuition money to tacitly endorse the company’s union-busting. Around the same time, the Cornell student government passed a resolution to urge the university to terminate the contract.

“Cornell Dining does not intend to serve Starbucks Coffee in its cafe venues after the current agreement with the company expires in 2025,” said Cornell Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina in a statement. Malina went on to say university officials would work with the student government in an “inclusive process” to find a new vendor.

In July, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that Starbucks violated federal labor laws when it closed one of its stores in Ithaca, saying that it was explicitly done to discourage union efforts. The judge ordered the company to reopen the location and compensate and rehire its employees. Complaints of illegal anti-union activity related to the other two closed Ithaca locations are still pending before labor officials.

“Everyone [in the student assembly] was pretty unanimously on board with the fact that Starbucks broke the law,” said Student Assembly President Patrick Kuehl in an interview with The Ithaca Voice and The Cornell Daily Sun. “And Cornell doesn’t support labor violations.”

While labor officials have found that the company has committed hundreds of labor violations over the two years that workers have been organizing, the company has not slowed its anti-labor tactics. Labor activists and Starbucks baristas in Philadelphia also recently waged a campaign to call on the city council to end city hall’s Starbucks contract.

Supporters say such campaigns could hit Starbucks where it hurts in lieu of weak federal labor laws that punish union-busting companies with no more than a slap on the wrist. In fact, the company is brazenly teaming up with the right-wing dark money-funded group National Right to Work Foundation in its attempt to have unions at the over 300 unionized stores decertified by dispatching managers to convince employees to abandon the union.

“So far consequences have been extremely limited for Starbucks union-busting,” Cornell student activist and ex-Starbucks employee Nick Wilson, told Bloomberg. “But if institutions like Cornell that represent young people and represent more altruistic values are willing to take a stand, I think that represents a huge opportunity for workers to gain some leverage.”

Starbucks Workers United has been leaning into these tactics as well. The union has announced actions like a bus tour and community engagement initiatives in order to maintain momentum in its union drive as the company continues to delay contract negotiations.

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