As youve heard, a Starbucks in Buffalo won union certification from the NLRB last Thursday. On Friday, my colleague and dear friend Harold Meyerson threw some cold coffee on the victory, pointing out that this is just one Starbucks unit out of more than 15,000, and that union successes in small fast-food places are close to nil.
It pains me to disagree with Harold, who is a source of great insight on all things labor, but I think he is being unduly and uncharacteristically pessimistic in his analysis. I will bet Harold a double caramel macchiato at the Starbucks of his choice that at least 100 Starbucks are unionized by this time next year.
The reason is that Starbucks is not your typical fast-food operation. For starters, unlike most of the industry, Starbucks stores are not franchises. They are owned and operated by the Starbucks Corporation.
For another, Starbucks is not just selling coffee; it is selling an image and an experienceof a cool, socially benign company, one that features hip baristas and pays attention to humane details like fair-traded coffee and the workers who grow it.
In short, Starbucks has to worry about what they call reputational damage if it becomes known as a union-buster. It is thus a sitting duck for customer pressure.
To be specific, consumers could threaten a boycott unless Starbucks agreed to stay scrupulously neutral in unionization drives elsewhere, as other Starbucks workers seek to emulate their sisters and brothers in Buffalo. Sign the pledge, or we start buying our coffee at Dunkin Donuts, where the stuff is cheaper, less pretentious, and just as drinkable.
Starbucks did resort to the usual union-avoidance tactics in Buffalo. But Starbucks looks like hell if it persists with union-busting as this drive turns into a national movement.
Readers may recall the successful campaign of the tomato workers in Immokalee, Florida. They were able to get raises because consumers put pressure on the fast-food chains that purchased the tomatoes, beginning with Taco Bell.
If Taco Bell was vulnerable, Starbucks is doubly vulnerable. I hope Harold gets properly caffeinated and keeps reporting on this story as unionization gains ground(s).