Starbucks tells union it wants to resume contract talks in January

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Members and supporters of Starbucks Workers United protest outside of a Starbucks store in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16, 2023.
Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

Starbucks said it wants to resume contract talks with the union representing its baristas, starting in January.

Saturday marks the two-year anniversary of the first unionization of company-owned Starbucks cafes in the U.S. Since then, more than 360 locations have voted to unionize, representing about 4% of the company’s total U.S. company-owned footprint.

No locations have yet reached a contract with the company. The potential restart of talks could open a window to resolve a stalemate in one of the most high-profile labor disputes in the U.S. in recent years.

The employees have pushed Starbucks to raise pay and fix what they call understaffing at cafes, among other demands.

Labor laws don’t 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. At least 19 locations have filed petitions to decertify with the National Labor Relations Board, but seven have been dismissed related to rulings that Starbucks broke federal labor law.

Starbucks and the union, Starbucks Workers United, began talks more than year ago, but negotiations have been fraught. Both parties have accused the opposing side of failing to bargain in good faith.

Starbucks has 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.

“We collectively agree, the current impasse should not be acceptable to either of us,” Sara Kelly, Starbucks’ chief partner officer, wrote in a letter addressed to Workers United International President Lynne Fox, which was obtained by CNBC. “It has not helped Starbucks, Workers United or, most importantly, our partners. In this spirit, we are asking for your support and agreement to restart bargaining.”

In the letter, Kelly also outlines several conditions to resume negotiations, including no audio or video recording or feeds.

If Workers United agrees, Starbucks hopes to begin talks again in January with a representative set of stores.

The union said it received the letter, is reviewing it and plans to respond.

“We’ve never said no to meeting with Starbucks. Anything that moves bargaining forward in a positive way is most welcome,” Fox said in a statement to CNBC.

In November, Starbucks workers conducted their largest-ever labor action, walking out at more than 200 stores on Red Cup Day, one of the chain’s busiest days of the year. Starbucks Workers United said the strike resulted in one big change that baristas asked for: the ability to turn off mobile orders during busy promotion days. Starbucks said the change to its mobile ordering system was already in the works before the demonstration.

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