Interim Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is said to have slammed a coffee chain barista who was spearheading a unionization drive at one of the company’s California locations, telling the worker, “If you hate Starbucks so much, why don’t you go somewhere else?”
The alleged encounter between Schultz and Madison Hall, a 25-year-old barista, occurred on Friday at Long Beach Airport, according to Hall.
According to the pro-union news site More Perfect Union, Schultz, 68, has begun a nationwide tour of Starbucks locations in an apparent attempt to dissuade his employees from voting to join unions.
“With significant pressures leading to the fracturing of our partner and customer experiences, I’ve been transparent about our missteps and the reason for my return – to reimagine Starbucks – built on our core values and guiding principles,” Schultz said in a statement to The Washington Post.
“I have complete confidence that together, we will restore our partners’ trust and belief and deliver an elevated Starbucks Experience to our partners and customers,” said the interim CEO.
Schultz went on to say that the “collaboration sessions” with employees “have not been without disruption efforts by union organizers,” though he did not specifically mention Hall’s accusations.
The alleged incident occurred at Long Beach Airport during a meeting between Schultz and company employees.
According to the site, Hall, who is leading an organizing drive of employees at a Starbucks restaurant in Long Beach, was invited to a meeting with Schultz and about two dozen other employees from other stores in the region.
The meeting, held at a building on the Long Beach Airport grounds, began with a videotaped speech by Schultz from a week ago in which the interim CEO blasted Starbucks Workers United, the organization behind the organizing drive.
Schultz, who recently re-assumed the company’s helm after former CEO Kevin Johnson resigned, described the group as “outsiders trying to take our people” while waging an “assault” on the coffee company.
He then appeared in person to participate in a question-and-answer session with employees. Schultz held similar give-and-take sessions with employees in Seattle and Chicago earlier this week.
According to a Starbucks spokesperson, the “focus of the meeting was on ways we can improve the partner experience and the various ways we can co-create the future of Starbucks together.
When Hall confronted Schultz about reports that Starbucks was firing employees who were active in organizing, the interim CEO cut Hall off.
“Then he went on a long rant about Starbucks’ history and how he used to be poor,” Hall said. “I said, ‘You say you’re not anti-union, but on July 1, 2021, [Starbucks] was found guilty of retaliation in Philadelphia,” Hall said, referring to a National Labor Relations Board ruling in which the company was found to have acted against two baristas who were attempting to unionize.
“That’s when he became extremely defensive and cut me off, saying, ‘We’re not talking about this,'” Hall claimed. “It was horrendous. He was becoming increasingly aggressive with me.”
“And then he went on another rant, and he told everyone else that he’s sorry this was brought up, that this isn’t what [the event] was about, and he had his hand pointed at me like I was a problem,” Hall claimed.
“Howard and others in the room requested to get back on track and shift the focus back on the whiteboarding sessions and what they were working on together,” a Starbucks spokesperson told the pro-union news site.
Six more Starbucks locations, all in upstate New York, voted to unionise over the weekend, adding to the company’s woes.
According to More Perfect Union, employees at another Starbucks location in Boston voted on Monday to join a union as well.
On Thursday afternoon, two stores in Rochester and one in Buffalo — the city where the unionization campaign began — voted to form a union. The next day, three more Ithaca businesses approved unionization efforts. The total number of Starbucks locations that have voted to form unions now stands at 16.
The coffee company owns over 9,000 restaurants in the United States.
The labor movement has recently won a number of significant victories. Workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island voted to unionize last week, a first for the mega-retailer, which has worked hard to stifle similar efforts by organized labor.