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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz attends an event in Washington, D.C.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz attends an event in Washington, D.C. on June 9, 2022. (Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for The New York Times)

'No Regard for the Law': Starbucks to Deny Union Workers New Paid Leave Benefits

"Their goal is to retaliate against and punish union stores," said Starbucks Workers United.

Jake Johnson

Starbucks management is reportedly planning to deny new paid leave benefits to unionized workers, another wrinkle in the company's aggressive and unlawful campaign to stamp out organizing momentum nationwide.

According to an internal memo obtained by More Perfect Union, Starbucks is set to announce Monday that it is ending Covid-19 sick pay benefits that offered employees two five-day rounds of paid leave per quarter if they contracted the virus or were exposed to it.

The memo adds that Starbucks intends to unveil new paid leave benefits that include "faster sick time accrual." However, the document states specifically that the company will attempt to exclude unionized workers from the new benefits, citing federal labor law requiring management to bargain with unions over any changes to wages, benefits, and working conditions.

Starbucks, currently led by billionaire CEO Howard Schultz, insists it is barred by federal law from "making or announcing unilateral changes," even as it unilaterally moves to end Covid-19 benefits for both unionized and nonunion employees.

"The memo suggests that Starbucks is legally permitted to unilaterally strip unionized stores of the current Covid leave benefits, but banned from implementing the new benefits in those stores," More Perfect Union notes.

Starbucks Workers United, the group leading the organizing campaign that has racked up more than 220 union wins across the U.S. since December, immediately slammed the memo as further evidence that company management "has no regard for the law."

"We are demanding that Starbucks bargain over their attempts to end Covid pay and benefits," the group wrote on Twitter. "Interesting how Starbucks claims to not legally be able to give us new benefits in THE SAME letter they unilaterally take away benefits."

"If Starbucks actually believed they couldn't give union stores new benefits unilaterally, they wouldn't be unilaterally stripping us of our benefits now," Starbucks Workers United continued. "Their goal is to retaliate against and punish union stores."

Starbucks' latest anti-union move comes as the company is facing a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint for illegally denying unionized workers wage and benefit boosts that it provided to nonunion employees. A hearing in the case is scheduled for October 25.

Bloomberg Law reported earlier this month that "Workers United International President Lynne Fox sent a letter to Starbucks on behalf of union stores waiving their right to bargain over the pay and benefit changes, and calling for the company to provide them to union stores as well."

Robert Giolito, an attorney who represents Starbucks Workers United in California and Arizona, told the outlet that "Schultz's stated reason for not affording wage increases and benefits to union stores was wiped out once the union presented its waiver."

"The minute the union gave the waiver, he can give those wages and benefits," Giolito added. "But if he did that, it would undercut the entire motivation of this policy, which is to discourage unionization."

The coffee giant's plan for new sick leave benefits was reported just days after the Biden White House facilitated a deal between rail carriers and unions that—at least temporarily—averted a nationwide railroad strike. At the center of the yearslong labor dispute was paid sick leave, which—unlike other wealthy countries—the U.S. government doesn't guarantee to workers.

"This, as much as anything that has been written, emphasizes the need for the U.S. to guarantee sick workers some form of paid sick days and paid medical and family leave legislation," Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said in a statement last week.

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