Amid mounting labor tensions between Starbucks and its rapidly growing union, another executive is poised to leave the company: Rossann Williams, executive vice president of Starbucks, North America, will be exiting Starbucks this month after 17 years with the company. Williams played a key role in the push against unionization over the past year and is now the third executive in the company to leave in the past two months (following the retirement of former CEO Kevin Johnson and ousting of general counsel Rachel Gonzalez, both of which occurred in April).
According to a letter sent to employees, Williams’ exit was “preceded by discussion about a next opportunity for Rossann within the company, which she declined,” though there has been no mention of where Williams will work next. After she leaves, Williams will be replaced by Sara Trilling, who is currently senior vice president and president of Starbucks Asia Pacific, and has been with the company for 20 years.
“Williams has not only been a fierce advocate for our partners, but she has been a champion of our mission, our culture and operational excellence,” Starbucks COO John Culver said in a statement.
As the number of unionized Starbucks stores edges toward 160, and legal battles between the union and its parent company continue, Starbucks’ stance against unionization strengthens. From the beginning of the unionization movement last September, when three stores in the Buffalo, N.Y. area organized a grassroots movement to push for labor representation, Williams has been at the forefront of the anti-union response from the company. In October 2021, Williams wrote a letter to Starbucks employees asking them to vote no in union elections:
“We are asking partners to vote no to a union—not because we’re opposed to unions but because we believe we will best enhance our partnership and advance the operational changes together in a direct partnership,” she said in the letter.
Since the first election took place in December, there have been 187 Starbucks union elections nationwide and 81% of them have voted in favor of unionizing. Most recently, employees have protested the permanent closure of an Ithaca, N.Y. store that had only recently voted to unionize. Starbucks also recently celebrated a legal win in a case against the National Labor Relations Board, which sued Starbucks for wrongful termination of union advocate employees.
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