Starbucks and Workers United, long at odds, say they’ll restart labor talks

Starbucks and the union that organizes its U.S. workers said Tuesday they have agreed to begin talks with the aim of reaching labor agreements.

The announcement marked a breakthrough for the two sides, who have been at odds since Workers United first organized baristas at a Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, in late 2021.

“Starbucks and Workers United have a shared commitment to building a positive relationship for the benefit of Starbucks partners,” Starbucks said in a statement. Workers United echoed these comments in a similar statement.

Employees have voted to unionize at more than 370 of the company’s Starbucks stores in the U.S., but none of those stores have reached a labor agreement with the company.

The process was controversial. In several cases, federal courts have ordered Starbucks to reinstate workers who were fired after leading union efforts in their stores. Regional offices of the National Labor Relations Board have also filed at least 120 complaints against Starbucks for unfair labor practices, including refusing to bargain and reserving raises and other benefits for non-union workers.

Starbucks said Tuesday that, as a sign of goodwill, it will offer workers at unionized stores benefits it announced in May 2022, including the ability for customers to add a tip to their credit card payments.

Starbucks was the first to indicate that it wanted a better relationship with the union. In December, the company said it wanted to resume labor talks with the aim of ratifying the contract agreements in 2024. Before then, the two sides had not spoken for seven months.

During discussions last week, the two sides said it became clear that there was “a constructive path forward on the broader issue of the future of organizing and collective bargaining at Starbucks.”

Starbucks and Workers United said Tuesday they also plan to discuss resolution of disputes between them. In October, Starbucks sued Workers United, saying a pro-Palestinian social media post from a union account at the start of the Israel-Hamas war angered hundreds of customers and damaged its reputation. The company demanded that the union stop using his name and likeness. Workers United responded, saying Starbucks had defamed the union and suggested it supported terrorism.

“While there is still much work to be done, coming together to develop this framework is an important step forward and a clear demonstration of a shared commitment to working together and with mutual respect,” the union said in a statement. Starbucks echoed these comments.