Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to visit with Buffalo workers

Starbucks Unionization Effort

His visit to Buffalo tonight comes four days before workers get ballots to vote on whether to unionize. Schultz served as CEO from 1986 to 2000, and again from 2008 to 2017.

Starbucks announced this morning to Buffalo-area workers that former CEO Howard Schultz would be a special guest for a meeting at a downtown Buffalo hotel.

The billionaire businessman and former presidential candidate is expected to speak to workers at the Hyatt Regency Downtown Buffalo hotel between 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Schultz served as Starbucks CEO from 1986 to 2000, and again from 2008 to 2017.

Starbucks on Saturday posted a message from Schultz, on its website with the title “From Buffalo with love.” He mentioned how Starbucks offers health care packages to both full- and part-time workers before the Affordable Care Act passed and stock for new hires or “green beans”, “which turned employees into partners.”

His visit comes four days before Starbucks workers at three Buffalo-area stores get their ballots to vote on whether to organize a union. Although Schultz did not mention the word “union” once in his online message, he did mentioned how he is upset that any workers believes they need “representation.”

“What the leadership team has done in Buffalo is what we have always done. We listen. We learn. We get better together,” Schultz said. “No partner has ever needed to have a representative seek to obtain things we all have as partners at Starbucks. And I am saddened and concerned to hear anyone thinks that is needed now.”

This was not his first visit to Buffalo this year. Schultz states on the company website that he visited Buffalo in September to speak with store managers, which was shortly after Starbucks workers announced the union drive.

In late August, workers at the three Starbucks stores signaled their intentions of organizing a union with Workers United Upstate NY, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

News 4 Investigates reported Thursday some of the accusations workers have made against Starbucks in what they described as aggressive tactics to thwart their union campaigns. That afternoon, the union and the pro-union Starbucks workers filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Starbucks for allegedly interfering with their organizing drive. The NLRB describes itself as an independent federal agency that safeguards employees’ rights to organize, decides whether companies violated those rights and whether to have unions as their bargaining representative.

The complaints include closing stores, having anti-union meetings where Starbucks officials have instructed workers to vote “no” on the union and swarming stores with executives and out-of-town managers to intimidate workers.

“They’ve infiltrated our stores, they’ve posted people in our stores, they’ve completely disrupted our scheduling, they’ve closed stores down. It’s been difficult to exist within our environment – an environment that we like to be in with people we enjoy working with – and it doesn’t show any signs of letting up,” said Starbucks Elmwood village worker Michelle Eisen said during an interview last month.

Starbucks has denied all of the allegations.

A Starbucks spokesman said that it is not uncommon for corporate to fly in executives and new managers to a market where workers have complained about store conditions. They are there to listen and fix problems, Starbucks said.

In addition, Starbucks current CEO, Kevin Johnson, recently said during a television interview that workers do not need unions.

“We don’t think it is in partners’ best interest to put a third party in between the relationship that we’ve always shared that is grounded in our mission, our values and the culture that created this great company,” Johnson said.

Union representatives confirmed the Schultz visit announcement was sent to Buffalo-area workers today by email at 5:21 a.m. from Deanna Pusatier, a regional director for Starbucks. Workers will be closing all 20 Buffalo-area stores so that workers can attend the meeting where Schultz is expected to speak, the union said.

Schultz’s visit to Buffalo is peculiar in that he has long been viewed as being anti-union.

A 2019 Huffington Post story highlighted his “long history” of “fending off unions.”

The 2019 story pulled a quote from his 1999 memoir, in which Schultz wrote: “I was convinced that under my leadership, employees would come to realize that I would listen to their concerns. If they had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn’t need a union.”

Also, Starbucks had retaliated against workers in the past for attempting to unionize. The NLRB had found that Starbucks in 2008 had illegally fired three workers for trying to form a union at several Manhattan stores, among other violations.

Between 60 and 70 employees will have from November 10 to December 9 to submit a mail-in ballot. If the majority of votes at each of the stores is in favor of unionizing, the bargaining for conditions in the workplace could begin soon after.

The votes are expected to be counted on Dec. 10.

The three stores trying to form unions are: the one in Elmwood Village, one on Genesee Street by the airport, and one on Camp Road in Hamburg. Two other stores, the Walden-Anderson store in Cheektowaga and Transit Commons in Amherst, postponed their union drives to focus efforts on the other locations.

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