Last week, we reported on Starbucks’ announcement that they will be bringing a Barista Championship of their very own to North America, expecting some 15,000+ baristas to participate. There were questions surrounding the event, like how much they would crib from the SCA’s annual competition by roughly the same name. (The answer to that appears to be, “a bit.”) The biggest question, though, was: would Starbucks allowed unionized stores to participate?
No, no they will not.
As reported by the Huffington Post, the exclusion of union Starbucks locations has been confirmed, and under the guise of the same generally thin reasons they have used to exclude Barista United-represented stores from perks. (And not at all as retaliation for forming a union.)
There were inklings that the corporation intending to deny access to unionized stores. In the January 22nd announcement of the inaugural competition, a caveat at the end stated that “wages, benefits, and/or terms and conditions may not be unilaterally implemented for partners in stores with organizing under way and may be subject to collective bargaining in good faith for partners in stores with certified union representation.” Such verbiage was not part of any other press release by the company.
Per internal company documents viewed by the Huffington Post, Starbucks states that participation in the newly-formed competition is a “workplace benefit that must be bargained over if workers unionize.” They have made the same argument in the past for wage increases, faster sick time accrual, medical travel reimbursements for employees seeking abortions or gender-reaffirming care, and participation in the “Black Apron” program that trains employees to become “coffee masters” (another already-extant coffee competition name that Starbucks doesn’t mind borrowing).
Workers United has already waived their right to collectively bargain over the increased benefits packages. The exclusion from the North American Barista Championship is included in the 47 new charges filed by Workers United against Starbucks, alleging unfair labor practices.
The great irony here is that Starbucks, the company whose argument against unions is that they know how best to care for their employees and thus need to third party intervention, is providing a prime example for why their baristas want to unionize. In their quickness to retaliate—and in such a cartoonishly petty way—they are giving credence to the sort of protections union organizers state they need.
It’s safe to say that Starbucks corporate in no way wants a union barista to win it all, but the likelihood of that was already pretty slim to begin with. With one representative from each of the 400 stores, the odds of them winning about 1 in 40, and I can’t imagine union baristas would score well on the fealty to corporate borg part of the competition, otherwise known as the portion of the District round testing “their knowledge of Starbucks coffee, culture and heritage.” (Just imagine the chaos of a competitor’s mic being cut mid-performance while they are delivering a pro-union routine.)
As of December 2023, there have been zero Starbucks union contracts ratified.