Starbucks says it wants to bargain. Its behavior suggests otherwise.

by Steven Greenhouse, In These Times

Starbucks received lots of favorable press when it told its workers’ union that it wanted to resume contract talks. The move was a much-needed PR boost for a company whose recent battles with the union have stirred bad press and contributed to sinking stock prices. A top Starbucks official wrote to the union’s president on Friday saying the company wanted to end the bargaining impasse — one caused by the coffee chain’s refusal to hold any negotiating sessions for more than six months. As a result of that refusal, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has repeatedly accused Starbucks of failing to bargain in good faith.

But there’s a very important caveat in Starbucks’ Friday letter that calls into question whether it is truly sincere about wanting to return to the bargaining table. In that letter, Starbucks continued to reject the idea of hybrid negotiations – the reason it has repeatedly blocked negotiations for many months. Sara Kelly, Starbucks’s vice president and chief partner officer, insisted in the letter that negotiations be conducted ​without video or audio feeds.” In other words, Starbucks’ message is, ​We’re saying we want to resume negotiations, but we will do so only if the union surrenders to us on this important hybrid bargaining issue.”

Activists march at the Starbucks Worker Solidarity Rally in support of unionization for baristas and other retail workers.

That doesn’t seem like a conducive way or sincere way to resume contract talks.

Starbucks has halted all bargaining by refusing to participate in hybrid negotiating sessions in which some unionized baristas would meet face to face with Starbucks’ bargaining team while other baristas would join the bargaining session via Zoom. The union, Starbucks Workers United, has insisted on hybrid bargaining, saying that some baristas simply don’t have the time or money to attend bargaining sessions in person. The union also repeatedly points out that in early 2022 Starbucks and its lawyers conducted some bargaining sessions via Zoom because of the pandemic, but the company later reversed itself and refused to do bargaining that includes any Zoom participants.

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