Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz reportedly snapped at a California barista who was leading a drive to unionize at one of the company's locations - telling him "If you hate Starbucks so much, why don’t you go somewhere else?"
According to the employee, 25-year-old barista Madison Hall, the 68-year-old Schultz lashed out at him at a Long Beach Airport location.
Schultz has been traveling the country in what appears to be an attempt to discourage employees from voting to join unions, according to More Perfect Union.
Hall, who has been leading the unionization effort at the Second and Covina store in Long Beach, was offered a last minute invitation to the gathering by their manager on Thursday evening. The event took place in a conference room in a building near the Long Beach Airport, and was pitched to them as “an opportunity to meet with senior-level management,” with little other context.
There were about 20 workers from various stores in the Long Beach area in attendance, along with management-level Starbucks employees. The event began with a full replay of the hour-long speech that Schultz gave to the entire company via live stream on Monday. The CEO attacked Starbucks Workers United several times throughout the speech, calling them “outsiders trying to take our people” and part of a nationwide “assault” on corporations. -More Perfect Union
"You are constantly telling us that you are not anti-union, you’re constantly saying that you respect our right to unionize," Hall says one employee told Schultz, to which the CEO replied "We're not going to talk about that."
Then, when Hall brought up several federal complaints by the NLRB against the company for alleged harassment and firing of pro-union workers, other baristas began to talk amongst themselves - apparently unaware of what happened - only to be cut off again by Schultz.
"Then he went into a long rant about the history of Starbucks and how he used to be poor," said Hall, who challenged Schultz.
"I said, ‘You say you’re not anti-union, but on July 1 2021, [Starbucks was] found guilty of retaliation in Philadelphia,’" he said, adding "That was when he got super-defensive and cut me off, saying ‘We’re not talking about this.'"
"It was very, very bad. He was getting very aggressive with me," Hall continued. "And then he went on another rant, and he told everyone else that he’s sorry that this was brought up, that this isn’t what [the event] was about, and he had his hand pointed towards me like I was a problem."
According to a Starbucks spokesperson, "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."
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Schultz, long known as a virulently anti-union executive, has led Starbucks for most of the past 35 years. After pushing to decertify the UFCW union that some members of the company belonged to when he bought Starbucks, Schultz has been at the helm during several crackdowns on attempted union drives.
In 2009, he lobbied the White House to kill the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it much easier for workers to unionize without threat of intimidation or firing. When Schultz left Starbucks to float his third “centrist” presidential run in 2016, he famously said, “unions are not the answer.”
In the fall of 2021, he addressed unionizing workers in Buffalo with a speech loaded with uncomfortable allusions to the Holocaust. There was a direct confrontation with a pro-union worker during that event, too, and it helped spur along a movement that has now reached 15 unionized stores and 185 more waiting for either their certification or election dates. This despite Starbucks’s ongoing engagement in an unprecedented anti-union campaign that has cost the company vast sums of both money and public goodwill.
Hall has been organizing their store in Long Beach for months, a process that enjoyed early initial support but was set back by a flurry of one-on-one meetings with managers and deep hour cuts. Over the past few weeks, through direct conversations with co-workers, Hall says that support has begun to grow again and that they anticipate filing signed union cards in the near future.