Laxman Narasimhan, the new Indian-origin CEO of coffee franchise Starbucks, is facing strikes from baristas at about 100 cafes, demanding that the company drop its alleged anti-union coercion.
The work stoppage, which organisers said will involve stores in more than 40 US cities, is the union Starbucks Workers United's latest effort to force a pivot by the coffee giant. Since scoring an initial landmark victory 15 months ago in Buffalo, New York, the union has prevailed in elections at around 290 of the company's roughly 9,000 corporate-owned US cafes. But the pace of new unionisation petitions has slowed down, as workers allege the company has been retaliating in stores and stonewalling them at the bargaining table.
Starbucks said earlier this week that that it offers industry-leading benefits and that it respects employees' right to organise and protest, but believes having a direct relationship with staff is core to its culture.
The company has said repeatedly that all claims of anti-union activity there are "categorically false". Starbucks has accused the union of failing to fairly negotiate, and has said US labor board officials are trying to use cases against it to establish new precedents that would change existing labor law.
The work stoppage comes one day before Starbucks's annual shareholder meeting, the first for new CEO Laxman Narasimhan, who officially took the reins from Howard Schultz this week. Investors including New York City pension funds have put forward a resolution this year urging the company to conduct a labor-rights audit, and Schultz is slated to be grilled by lawmakers at a US Senate committee hearing next week.
US National Labor Relations Board regional directors have issued 80 complaints accusing the company of breaking the law to defeat organising efforts, including by excluding unionised stores from new benefits, shutting down cafes and terminating dozens of activists.
Striking baristas from Oregon and Washington state plan to converge for a midday protest outside Starbucks headquarters in Seattle.