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Coming Soon: The Truth About Starbucks

  • A new campaign exposing Starbucks' history of terminating, harassing, intimidating, and discriminating against employees attempting to unionize.
    By ZP Heller
    AlterNet, May 18, 2009
    Straight to the Source

Put down that grande non-fat caramel macchiato or whatever Starbucks concoction you're drinking.  Turns out the coffee giant has a history of being anti-barista, anti-union, and thus anti-Employee Free Choice Act.

In fact, Starbucks' nasty labor practices make the company look an awful lot like Wal-Mart.  The National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly found Starbucks guilty of illegally terminating, harassing, intimidating, and discriminating against employees attempting to unionize.  Starbucks has settled five labor disputes in the last few years in New York, Minnesota, and Michigan, spending millions on legal fees to avoid exposing their anti-worker ways.  And Starbucks has led the charge on a so-called Employee Free Choice Act "compromise," which would require 70 percent of workers to sign union authorization cards instead of the much more manageable 50 percent initially proposed by this legislation.

We've known for a while where Starbucks billionaire CEO Howard Schultz stands on unions.  After all, it was Schultz who once said that if workers "had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn’t need a union."  While Starbucks pretends to be pro-barista, claiming to offer workers decent wages and health insurance, these "progressive" policies are less substantive than the company's frothy milk-based beverages.  The reality is, as Liza Featherstone has noted, Starbucks insures a lower percentage of its workers than Wal-Mart.

Less than 42 percent of Starbucks' 127,000 baristas in the U.S. are insured by the company, whereas Wal-Mart insures 47 percent of its employees.  To make matters worse, Starbucks offers its workers wages similar to those earned by Wal-Mart employees, and Starbucks does not guarantee workers set hours.  Instead, the company follows an Optimal Scheduling policy that requires baristas to make themselves available 70 percent of open store hours just to work full time in any given week.  This means that low-wage earning baristas do not have time to take a second job.  Moreover, it precludes tens of thousands of Starbucks employees from working the 240 hours per quarter needed to qualify for the company's health insurance.

Brave New Films is gearing up to take on Starbucks with the same tenacity used in the fight against Wal-Mart.  Tomorrow, BNF will spill the beans about Starbucks' labor practices with the first video in its newest campaign, Stop Starbucks.  In the meantime, sign the memo to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz insisting he allow workers to unionize.


ZP Heller is the editorial director of Brave New Films. He has written for The American Prospect, AlterNet, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Huffington Post, covering everything from politics to pop culture.

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