Starbucks finds itself at a bit of a pickle recently. In the past year or so, union activity at US company-owned locations has never been higher, and the company appears to be doing everything in their power to stem the tide. With the public’s approval of labor unions higher than it has been in nearly 60 years, the company’s alleged labor-busting tactics may not be seen so favorably their their customers. So what’s the global coffee giant to do? If the latest news is any indication, NFTs! Those are cool and popular and certainly will make you forget all about their union de-incentivizing practices of questionable legality.
It’s a Starbucks two-parter today. First up: unions. Less than a month after the National Labor Relations Board sided with Starbucks Workers United, alleging that the coffee company “illegally withheld wages and benefits from thousands of unionized baristas,” Starbucks is redoubling their efforts and continuing to expand benefits exclusively for non-union workers. As reported by Reuters, the Seattle-based coffee chain announced on Monday, September 12th a bolstered benefits package including “student loan repayment tools and a savings account program for all U.S. employees who are not union members.”
Announced ahead of their annual Investors Day the following day, the company maintains that they are not allowed to offer the benefits to union workers without collectively bargaining first. Previously, Starbucks Workers United waived their right to collectively bargain for the increased benefits package that included pay raises, faster sick time accrual, and medical travel reimbursements for employees seeking abortions or gender-reaffirming care, stating the Starbucks was free to give those benefits to union and non-union workers alike. The company has yet to offer those enhanced benefits to union workers, leading to the complaint filed with the NLRB.
And according to an analyst with BTIG, a global financial services firm, the gambit by Starbucks is paying off. The wage hikes are having an adverse effect on union activity, with the number of new stores seeking a union vote falling to its lowest levels all year.
It won’t be until October that an administrative law judge will hear the NLRB complaint and decide if withholding benefits from union workers is legal.
Meanwhile, as public perception of the brand could be shifting due to their very public dispute with labor unions, Starbucks is looking to retain customers with an exciting new loyalty program. And what’s more exciting than NFTs! That’s right, NFTs, non-fungible tokens, jpegs you can’t copy (but really you can).
On Monday, the company announced Starbucks Odyssey, a “revolutionary web3 experience” to boost their loyalty program. Per the announcement Starbucks Rewards members as well as US-based employees will be able to “earn and purchase digital collectible assets” that will give them access to new benefits and “immersive coffee experiences.” With Odyssey, users will be able to go on a series of “journeys”—”playing interactive games or taking on fun challenges to deepen their knowledge of coffee and Starbucks”—that, once completed, will earn them a “digital collectible ‘journey stamp.'” Or, you know, an NFT.
You can of course also use real money to buy “limited edition stamps” via a built-in Odyssey marketplace, where users can also sell or trade their stamps. Each stamp has a point value based on rarity, and the more points a member has, the more “access to unique benefits and experiences” become available, including virtual espresso martini-making classes, merchandise, or even invitations to exclusive “trips to Starbucks Hacienda Alsacia coffee farm in Costa Rica.”
To drum up excitement and create a sense of exclusivity, Starbucks has created a waitlist for anyone who wants to take part of this Odyssey.
Union busting and NFTs, two very good ideas that surely history will look back kindly on.