Conflict Escalates Between Starbucks and US Labor Department

Starbucks management is fuming that union organizers were invited to the White House for a Thursday meeting that did not include company representatives. And that’s only the beginning.

Starbucks union proponents along with others from Amazon and REI met with Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in Washington on Thursday. The group even had a brief word with President Joe Biden.

Senior VP of global communications and public affairs for the coffee giant, AJ Jones II, voiced the company’s displeasure in a letter to White House counsel. He emphasized the company’s belief that the meeting distorted “the reality that the majority of our partners oppose being members of a union.”

He then asked for an opportunity to visit the White House with a “diverse, representative group” from Starbucks. What he received was slightly different.

In a rapidly unfolding series of events, Secretary Walsh in a Friday interview called out Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz to do a better job embracing organized labor. Walsh said Schultz must “invest in all of his workforce.” He chided the company for having a bad business model of not investing in shops that are organized.

While commending the company’s nearly $1 billion commitment to personnel planned for this year, Walsh advised Starbucks to sit and have a conversation with union organizers to have “a real partnership.”

Later on Friday the hammer fell.

U.S. Labor Board prosecutors lodged a complaint alleging Starbucks broke multiple federal laws in New York. They accuse the company of carrying out surveillance of union activists, threatening, and then firing six individuals. The allegations include over 200 violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

The claims were brought to the board by Worker’s United, the national labor group that organizing workers are attempting to join. Roughly 50 Starbucks locations out of 9,000 nationwide have chosen to unionize.

The Biden administration swung far from the traditional federal government role of mediating labor disagreements. Instead, it became a partisan advocate for labor organizers and the enemy of management. This is hardly an environment to support successful business and labor relations.