Employees at Madison’s State Street Starbucks location have faced union-busting attempts from the company’s upper management after filing to unionize in April, according to multiple workers.
The store, located at 661 State Street, is the fifth Starbucks in Dane County to organize and is one of roughly 300 U.S. locations to file for union petitions to date.
Matthew Cartwright, a union organizer, said that company leadership increased their presence at their location after filing to unionize.
“We saw anti-union flyers appear in work and break areas as well as the targeted removal of any union flyers, information packets, or anything pro-union or pro-free information,” Cartwright said. “We also started getting anti-union talks from management.”
While the talks started out as small comments about the damages forming a union could create, Cartwright said they culminated into a four-day visit from a district manager and Camille Arnold, a human resources representative.
“Camille and our district manager began to pick out individual partners, separate them from everyone else and have conversations with them,” Cartwright said. “They claimed these conversations were merely to provide ‘neutral information.’”
However, Cartwright claimed the conversations were filled with misleading comments and fabrications ranging from exaggerating union dues to suggesting the union would demote or fire employees.
Employees who spoke with Arnold and the district manager felt intimidated and uncomfortable by the interactions, according to Cartwright.
“Starbucks has to decide whether they will meet us with good faith or whether they will let greed and pride blind them from what is right,” Cartwright said.
‘We won’t be bought’
Employees called for unionization in April due to “intimidation, labor cuts and unclear standards” from the company’s upper management, according to a letter written to Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan.
“Workers who simply want to do their jobs are threatened and intimidated by upper management for even thinking about forming a union,” Cartwright said. “A major part of us wanting to form this union was seeing the egregious and illegal union busting tactics across the country.”
Cartwright hopes the State Street store will be a good representation of the importance of unions.
“The store serves a heart for the university — many students visit the store everyday, and students fill most of our staff,” Cartwright explained. “One of our first finds during our process of unionizing was that many college students, while fully in support of what a union stands for, [had] yet to fully learn about unions and what they can do.”
Starbucks publicly denied allegations that it retaliated against organized workers or refused to bargain, according to the Cap Times.
In March 2023, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz testified to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to publicly deny the allegations of union-busting.
"We want to treat everyone with respect and dignity," Schultz said. "However, I have the right, and the company has the right, to have a preference. And our preference is to maintain the direct relationship we've had with our employees, who we call partners."
Starbucks previously said it opposes a union, according to the Associated Press. However, in a statement to The Daily Cardinal, the company’s media relations team counteracted previous claims and said they respect “their right to organize and engage in lawful union activities.”
Still, organizers say the company’s actions create an unfair work environment for its employees, highlighting the need for unionization.
“We've seen labor cuts even while the company records higher profits than ever,” said Cartwright. “It's extremely clear that Starbucks expects its workers to take on yet even more the roles of multiple employees at once, regardless of stress on workers or the actual efficiency, simply to extract as much profit as possible.”
The vote to finalize unionization takes place on Thursday, June 1.
“We wish it to be clear that we shall not be moved. We won't be bought, we won't be sold, we won't be scared into submission. We won't go away,” Cartwright said. “We ask that Starbucks recognizes our union and all other unions across the country, that they treat us all fairly, and that they finally sit at the bargaining table.”