New Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan addressed investors for the first time at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Thursday shortly after taking the helm at the Seattle-based coffee chain earlier than expected. The day before Narasimhan and other Starbucks executives addressed shareholders, and one week before Howard Schultz is scheduled to testify before the Senate, the Starbucks Union organized a strike of 115 stores around the country.
The frustrated Starbucks workers were striking in solidarity against the alleged union-busting tactics Starbucks has taken over the past 15 months when Starbucks stores began unionizing. These complaints of union busting — including reducing hours and firing employees that were part of the union movement, closing stores unexpectedly, and allegedly pressuring employees to vote ‘no’ on unionization — have translated to legal actions. The National Labor Relations Board currently has a few hundred legal complaints against the company, several of which have been decided in court already.
Although allegations of union busting were not directly addressed in Starbucks’ prepared remarks Thursday, the company did hint at some of its labor challenges in a highlights video played at the start of the meeting, which said that they “strive to be a different kind of company” and addressed what “limits” them right now in Starbucks’ goal to be “limitless” in its reach and potential. Starbucks said it plans to continue hiring more baristas, invest in partner wages and store operations, and “directly engage with retail partners” for guidance.
Narasimhan also committed to working a half-day shift at a Starbucks café once a month, which even the company’s pro-union critics have applauded as a “good first step” on Twitter.
“Today, during the coffee giant’s annual shareholder meeting, Starbucks spent more than 30 minutes talking about how they listen to workers – despite implementing an aggressive union-busting campaign and failing to bargain with the union in good faith,” a Starbucks union representative told NRN via email. “In response, Starbucks Workers United announced that seven Starbucks stores across the country filed for elections to unionize with the national campaign.”
During the business portion of the meeting, one of the proposals shareholders voted on would have the company agree to an independently audited workers’ rights assessment, including the right to collectively bargain.
“This is not only about workers’ fundamental rights, it’s about [Starbucks’] responsibility to make sure they operate in accordance with the values of the company,” Illinois state treasurer Michael Frerichs, who represents the investor group Trillium Access Management, which had previously criticized Starbucks for union-busting said during the shareholders’ meeting. “Recent events have called into question the explicit right to form and join a union without interference […] There could be material reputational and legal risks to the company that may impact long-term value of the company.”
In response to this shareholder proposal, Starbucks has referred to the company’s own independent human rights impact assessment.
“Starbucks has commenced efforts to perform a human rights impact assessment which will be conducted by independent third parties, including those with appropriate subject matter expertise,” Jennifer Kraft, Starbucks senior vice president, deputy general counsel and corporate secretary said during the shareholders’ meeting. “With respect to the deeper level review of the principles or freedom of association, and the right to collective bargaining, we expect to make the results of the human rights impact assessment available to shareholders, stakeholders and other interested parties by the end of our 2023 fiscal year, subject to privilege considerations.”
Starbucks told NRN that the company’s independent assessment is different than the union’s proposed audit because it “represents a much broader commitment” and is a follow-up to Starbucks’ 2019 Civil Rights Assessment.
Even if Starbucks shareholders vote in favor of the proposed assessment when the results are revealed within the next few business days, the company has the right to reject proposals because the votes are not binding.
Contact Joanna at [email protected]