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Starbucks resumes bargaining with union after two sides thaw relationship

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Starbucks and the union that represents its baristas will resume contract negotiations on Wednesday, ending an extended stalemate.

The two sides’ return to the bargaining table follows their February announcement that they found a “constructive path forward” during mediation discussions related to litigation over the union’s use of Starbucks’ branding. It marked a major pivot for Starbucks, which had spent the previous two years battling Workers United and the broader movement to unionize its cafes.

Roughly 500 company-owned Starbucks in the U.S. have voted to unionize under Workers United since the first elections in December 2021, according to a tally from the National Labor Relations Board, as of Monday. But none of those locations, which make up a small fraction of total U.S. footprint, have come close to a collective bargaining agreement.

Starbucks and the union, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, have previously met to bargain, but those talks quickly ended in stalemate. Both sides have accused the other of sabotaging the talks.

Starbucks had previously insisted on face-to-face negotiations, with no representatives appearing via Zoom. The union has accused Starbucks of using that excuse as a stalling tactic. It is unclear if all representatives will be appearing in person in the latest round of talks.

Store agreements will be negotiated and ratified separately, but the union might make proposals that could affect all of the Starbucks workers it represents. Workers United has broadly pushed for higher wages and more consistent scheduling, among a range of other priorities.

Labor laws do not require that the employer and union reach a collective bargaining agreement, only that both bargain in good faith. After a year, workers who lose faith in the union can petition to decertify, putting a ticking clock on negotiations. 

The NLRB has 19 pending petitions to decertify. Citing unfair labor practices by Starbucks, the labor board has denied 18 other petitions to decertify.

The company said it has also been negotiating with other unions that represent its cafes, such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is bargaining for a store outside of Pittsburgh.

The resumption of contract negotiations comes a day after another significant moment for both Starbucks and unions. On Tuesday, the company appeared before the Supreme Court to appeal a lower court’s approval of an injunction sought by the NLRB to reinstate seven fired workers at a Memphis cafe.

Starbucks argued that other agencies seeking injunctions have a higher threshold to receive one than the labor board does. Experts have said that the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling could weaken the NLRB — and organized labor. The court is expected to release its decision this summer.

Starbucks could share more about the union negotiations during its quarterly earnings call. The coffee giant is expected to report its results on Tuesday.

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