Starbucks CEO lashes out at unionizing baristas

Interim Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz reportedly lashed out at a coffee chain barista who was leading a unionization drive at one of the company’s California locations, telling the worker: “If you hate Starbucks so much, why don’t you go somewhere else?”

The alleged encounter between Schultz and the 25-year-old barista, Madison Hall, took place at Long Beach Airport on Friday, Hall has claimed.

Schultz, 68, has embarked on a tour of Starbucks locations nationwide in an apparent bid to dissuade his employees from voting to join unions, according to the pro-union news site More Perfect Union.

Schultz released a statement to The Post saying: “With significant pressures leading to the fracturing of our partner and customer experiences, I’ve been transparent about our missteps and the reason for my return – to reimagine Starbucks – built on our core values and guiding principles.” 

“I have complete confidence that together we will restore the trust and belief of our partners and deliver an elevated Starbucks Experience to our partners and customers,” the interim CEO said.

Schultz added that the “collaboration sessions” with employees “have not been without efforts at disruption by union organizers”– though he did not allude specifically to Hall’s accusations.

The reported incident took place during a meeting between Schultz and company employees at Long Beach Airport.

Hall, who is leading an organizing drive of workers at a Starbucks restaurant in Long Beach, was invited to a meeting with Schultz and some two dozen other employees from other stores in the region, the site said.

The meeting, which was held at a building on the grounds of Long Beach Airport, began with a videotaped speech by Schultz from a week ago in which the interim CEO blasted Starbucks Workers United, the group behind the organizing drive.

Schultz, who recently re-assumed the helm of the company after former CEO Kevin Johnson left the firm, called the group “outsiders trying to take our people” while waging an “assault” on the coffee chain.

He then appeared in person to take part in a question-and-answer session with workers. Earlier last week, Schultz held similar give-and-takes with employees in Seattle and Chicago.

A Starbucks spokesperson told More Perfect Union that the “focus of the meeting was about ways we can improve the partner experience and the various ways we can co-create the future of Starbucks together.”

Schultz has tried to dissuade employees at the coffee chain's 9,000 US restaurants from joining unions.
Schultz has tried to dissuade employees at the coffee chain’s 9,000 US restaurants from joining unions.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

Hall told More Perfect Union that when Hall confronted Schultz over reports that Starbucks was firing employees who were active in organizing, the interim CEO cut Hall off.

“Then he went into a long rant about the history of Starbucks and how he used to be poor,” Hall said. “I said, ‘You say you’re not anti-union, but on July 1, 2021, [Starbucks was] found guilty of retaliation in Philadelphia,’” Hall said, referring to a National Labor Relations Board ruling that found the company acted against two baristas who were trying to unionize.

“That was when he got super-defensive and cut me off, saying, ‘We’re not talking about this,’” Hall claimed. “It was very, very bad. He was getting very aggressive with me.”

“And then he went on another rant, and he told everyone else that he’s sorry that this was brought up, that this isn’t what [the event] was about, and he had his hand pointed towards me like I was a problem,” Hall claimed.

So far, workers at 16 Starbucks locations in the US have voted to form unions.
So far, workers at 16 Starbucks locations in the US have voted to form unions.
AFP via Getty Images

A spokesperson for Starbucks told the pro-union news site: “Howard and others in the room requested to get back on track and shift the focus back on the whiteboarding sessions and what they were working on together.”

Starbucks management suffered a weekend of more setbacks as six more shops — all of them in upstate New York — voted to unionize.

Employees at another Starbucks location in Boston also voted to join a union on Monday, according to More Perfect Union.

Two stores in Rochester and another in Buffalo — the city where the unionization campaign first started — voted to form a union on Thursday afternoon. The next day, three more shops in Ithaca also approved unionization efforts. That brings the total number of Starbucks stores that have voted to form unions to 16.

Nationwide, there are more than 9,000 restaurants owned by the coffee chain.

The labor movement has been chalking up several significant victories of late. Last week, workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island voted to unionize — a first for the mega-retailer that has worked to snuff out similar efforts by organized labor.


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