starbucks protestesr in New York

Protestors rally against what they argue are union-busting tactics outside a Starbucks in Great Neck, New York on August 15, 2022. (Photo: Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

'Disgusting': Starbucks to Help Its Workers With Student Debt--Unless They're in a Union

After withholding raises from unionized employees earlier this year, "Starbucks is doubling down on the illegality," said one critic.

Starbucks was yet again blasted as a union-buster on Monday after announcing new financial savings and student loan repayment tools--but only for U.S. workers who haven't unionized.

"Union-busting is disgusting," declared Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, leader of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner asserted that there is "no reason to not extend this to union members, too."

As employees of various major corporations have revived the U.S. labor movement this year, workers at more than 200 Starbucks locations have voted to form unions. Starbucks Workers United, labor leaders, progressive lawmakers, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have accused the company of violating federal law to quash organizing.

The coffee giant said in a statement that with "My Starbucks Savings," workers "will be able to contribute a portion of after-tax pay on a recurring basis directly from their paycheck to a personal savings account," with the company contributing "$25 and $50 credits at key saving milestones up to a total of $250 per incentive eligible partner."

"Starbucks will also launch a Student Loan Management Benefit through to help eligible partners manage and optimize student loan repayments," the company continued. "Through this tool, eligible U.S. partners and their families will have access to new tools, resources, and individual coaching to manage student loan debt, such as repayment options and loan refinancing."

"Tools within the platform will help partners view all their student loan debt in one place and locate the best individual action to take based on their personal repayment scenario and goals," Starbucks added. "This could include taking advantage of income-based repayment options, refinancing, and planning how best to finance education for college-bound students and parents of students."

Starbucks' student debt benefit follows U.S. President Joe Biden last month announcing a long-awaited plan to forgive $10,000 to $20,000 for federal borrowers, along with other relief measures.

The company's new benefits, which take effect next Monday, were teased in May, when Starbucks announced pay increases for its workers--officially called "partners"--who do not belong to unions.

As Bloomberg reported Monday:

Starbucks, which has more than 15,000 U.S. locations, legally can't unilaterally give these benefits to stores that have union activity, according to spokesperson Reggie Borges. Instead, the new benefits can be discussed in collective bargaining, he said.

However, Workers United, the group attempting to organize Starbucks cafes, has argued that the union waived its right to negotiate over extending benefits being provided to other stores, so there's no legal obstacle to doing so...

"Starbucks is blatantly disregarding the law to continue their scorched-earth union-busting campaign," Workers United said in a statement. "Starbucks is not only damaging their brand and their business, but irrevocably damaging their credibility as a company."

The NLRB last month issued a complaint accusing Starbucks of violating U.S. labor law by withholding new benefits from unionized workers.

Reutersnoted Monday that Peter Saleh, an analyst at the global financial services firm BTIG, wrote late last month that "we believe the recent wage hikes... are having an adverse effect on the labor unions, with the number of stores filing for a vote declining to the lowest level all year in August."

"Enough is enough," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after the NLRB complaint. "Howard Schultz, the billionaire CEO of Starbucks, must end his war against his employees, recognize the union, and negotiate a first contract."

Schultz--who got $940 million richer during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an August Americans for Tax Fairness analysis--is serving as Starbucks' chief executive for a third time, though he will soon be replaced by Laxman Narasimhan of Reckitt Benckiser Group.

Narasimhan is set to officially join Starbucks next month as "incoming CEO," before stepping into the full role in April. In the interim, "I'm going to be learning from Howard," he said during an internal employee forum in Seattle last week, according toThe Wall Street Journal.

Starbucks Workers United highlighted on Twitter that employees unionizing at a store in Albany, New York included Narasimhan's name in a Monday letter.

Noting that Tuesday is the company's annual "Investor Day," the group pressured the incoming CEO to do "the right thing and end Starbucks' war against workers."

Labor organizers are planning to mark Investor Day with a rally and protest outside Starbucks' Seattle headquarters Tuesday morning. One local union said members will be demonstrating to urge Starbucks "to stop union-busting and to give workers a seat at the table."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.