Politics

Seattle Starbucks Welcomes Anti-Union CEO Howard Schultz Back to Work By Unionizing Unanimously

Four women wearing winter clothes stand at a lectern in front of a group holding red pro-union signs.
A Seattle Starbucks barista named Kyandra Espindola speaks at a rally in Seattle on Jan. 25. Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been quite a time the last few years for Howard Schultz, the longtime Starbucks CEO who stepped down from his position in 2017.

• He made a number of media appearances in early 2019 to say that he was thinking about running for president as an independent candidate, and was met in response with poor polling numbers, withering and incisive criticism by leading bloggers, and a perverse and terrifying series of videos made by a comedian named Connor O’Malley pretending to be a deranged Schultz superfan [Ed. note: What in the name of God?] The only solid, issue-based opinion he seemed to have was that taxes should not be increased on people in his income bracket.

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• He took several months off from his non-campaign, telling his staff when he returned that he’d had to have multiple back surgeries, then announced he had decided not to run after all.

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• In November 2021, he told a group of Starbucks baristas in Buffalo that they didn’t need to unionize because the company already shared its prosperity with them in a way that reminded him of an anecdote about Holocaust prisoners sharing a blanket. (Schultz is Jewish.) The questionable analogy, which one could argue is insulting to both Starbucks employees and victims of the Holocaust, made national headlines, and then five stores in Buffalo voted to unionize anyway. (The company has been criticized by workers in the past for paying too little, scheduling shifts in an erratic and disruptive way, and systemically understaffing its stores.)

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Last week, Schultz announced that he would be returning to his former role as CEO of the Seattle-based on company on an interim basis. According to the Wall Street Journal, one of his goals in doing so “is establishing a new tone with the roughly 230,000 workers staffing its U.S. cafes.”

It appears the tone will need more time to be established, because the nine employees of the Seattle location that was holding its own union vote Monday just voted 9-0 to form one. From HuffPo’s Dave Jamieson, a leading labor reporter:

Last Tuesday, meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board filed a formal complaint accusing the company of retaliating illegally against two workers involved in unionization efforts in Arizona. (The company denies the allegations, which will be heard by an administrative law judge.)

In sum, there’s some real pumpkin-spiced pressure on old Howard right now! Here’s hoping he can start espresso-ing himself in a more convincing way and macchiato the best of a bad situation. Hahaha. Coffee words!

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