Starbucks workers protest before annual shareholder meeting

SEATTLE (AP) — Starbucks workers and labor activists rallied outside the company’s Seattle headquarters Wednesday to protest what they describe as union-busting efforts by executives.

Organizers said employees also walked off the job at more than 100 stores in 40 U.S. cities, though the company disputed the breadth of the protests and said nearly every store remained open. It did not immediately indicate how many locations closed. Some stores remained open because workers remained on the job, while others were staffed by employees from nearby stores who took additional shifts to cover for strikers, Starbucks said.

The demonstrations came on the eve of the company's annual shareholders meeting and were designed to urge new Chief Executive Officer Laxman Narasimhan to take a more welcoming approach to unionization efforts, said organizers with Starbucks Workers United, which has asked shareholders to vote for a third party to assess the company’s commitment to labor rights.

“Starbucks baristas like me are the ones who keep our stores running. We remember our customers’ regular orders, make the lattes, clean up spills, and are often the bright spot of our customers’ days," Sarah Pappin, a Seattle Starbucks worker, said in a prepared statement. “Starbucks should respect our right to organize and meet us at the bargaining table."

At least 280 company-owned U.S. Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since late 2021. Workers are asking for better pay, more consistent schedules and safer stores, among other things. Starbucks and the union have not yet reached a contract agreement at any of those stores.

The company opposes unionization, saying it already provides industry-leading benefits and that its stores function better when the company works directly with employees. The labor activists say workers have trouble obtaining enough hours to qualify for Starbucks benefits.

Each side has repeatedly complained of the other's tactics to the National Labor Relations Board. Last week, a federal labor judge found the company violated U.S. labor laws “hundreds of times” during a unionization campaign in Buffalo, New York. The judge ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven fired workers and required former CEO Howard Schultz to read or be present at a reading of employee rights and distribute a recording of the reading to all of Starbucks’ U.S. employees.

Faced with a possible vote to subpoena him, Schultz has agreed to testify next week before a U.S. Senate committee headed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The panel is examining Starbucks’ actions amid the unionization campaign.

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