Starbucks Walks Out of Union Contract Negotiations After Months of Delays

Starbucks company representatives abruptly walked out of every bargaining session the company had scheduled for Monday after just minutes in the room, in some cases, stalling negotiations yet again for what the union says are completely spurious reasons.

Union members in Buffalo; Chicago; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Louisville, Kentucky; and Lakewood, California, sat down on Monday after months of anticipation to begin bargaining their first contracts in earnest with the company. These were set to be among the first round of contract negotiations, potentially setting the stage for how future sessions with the over 250 unionized stores will go.

Workers say that company representatives from Starbucks and union-busting law firm Littler Mendelson were late to the session and made workers wait for hours. Then, after returning to the room, they abruptly left, citing the fact that some workers were joining the session virtually on Zoom — garnering deep frustration from workers who say that the company is using this as an excuse to continue to delay bargaining.

“It’s as if Starbucks walked out of negotiations because they didn’t like the color of our hair,” said Al Kerr, a worker at the Elmwood Avenue store in Buffalo that was supposed to bargain on Monday, in a statement. “It’s completely ridiculous — not to mention childish — and clearly just another way for the company to stall.”

The union also says that the company has previously allowed employees to join in on Zoom in the small handful of bargaining sessions that it’s had with union members prior to this week. Some who were slated to negotiate on Monday said that there hadn’t been established ground rules banning Zoom before the meeting.

“I joined the Power and Baseline bargaining session virtually and we had no problems,” Starbucks Workers United leader Michelle Eisen said, referring to one of the three bargaining sessions that had happened prior to Monday. “Why it’s suddenly an issue for Starbucks and their lawyers just doesn’t make any sense.”

Starbucks has filed an unfair labor practice charge in each of the stores slated to negotiate on Monday, saying that the presence of the Zoom callers was a sign that the union wasn’t bargaining in good faith.

The union is also planning to file an unfair labor practice charge, saying that this is just the latest example of the company, not the workers, being unwilling to come to the bargaining table in good faith.

According to the union, despite the company saying that it was ready to begin bargaining, the company has made it hard for workers to get a meeting on the books.

Starbucks presented workers with a slate of dates to bargain in October — but said that workers had to adhere to a rule requiring three weeks of advance notice for time off requests for the sessions. Although workers at 156 stores accepted proposed bargaining dates, only 37 stores had a date on the books as of last week, with the majority of sessions being pushed back to next month.