February 18, 2009

Starbucks bucks unionization

Starbucks Corp. management views itself as pro-employee but workers who have unionized say they don't necessarily see the Seattle company that way,

Baristas have testified in past court cases that Starbucks managers have tried to derail their union efforts. The company points to the health benefits, 401(k) plan, stock options and other perks as evidence it is doing well by its workers.

In December, a National Labor Relations Board judge sided with the employees, ruling Starbucks violated federal labor law by trying to stop Starbucks Workers Union from organizing four Manhattan cafes. Starbucks is appealing.

It's always been a difficult place for baristas to make ends meet at Starbucks with the insecure work hours and low wages, Daniel Gross, a union organizer fired by Starbucks in 2006, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

But Jim McDermet, a Starbucks senior vice president, told the newspaper the gourmet coffee retailer is a pro-partner organization.

We really view ourselves as listening to our people and creating an environment where our partners can communicate directly to us, he said.

Kim Fellner, author of the 2008 book Wrestling with Starbucks, said the truth is somewhere in between.

With the election of Democratic President Barack Obama and the appointment of Hilda Solis as labor secretary, union supporters are looking forward to making inroads in the coming years.

We're about to go union in a huge way in this country, said Clarence Belnavis of the national labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP.

He says Starbucks, with its overall staff size and centralized management, is an easy target.

Name me one state where there's not a Starbucks. Wouldn't you want to be the union handling those issues? Belnavis said.