Starbucks and Union Agree to Work Out Framework for Contract Talks

Starbucks and Union Agree to Work Out Framework for Contract Talks

Starbucks and the union that represents employees in roughly 400 of its U.S. stores announced Tuesday that they were beginning discussions on a “foundational framework” that would help the company reach labor agreements with unionized workers and resolve litigation between the two sides.

The union greeted the development as a major shift in strategy for Starbucks, which has taken steps to resist union organizing at the company since the campaign began in 2021, moves that federal labor regulators have said violated labor law hundreds of times.

Starbucks, which has denied the accusations, said in a statement that it hoped to have contracts negotiated and ratified by the end of the year and would agree to a “fair process for organizing” — something the union has demanded for years. It said that, as a gesture of good faith, it was providing unionized workers with benefits it introduced in 2022 but withheld from union stores, like an option for customers to tip via credit card.

Representatives of both Starbucks and the union, Workers United, said that while details must be worked out, they hoped to be back at the bargaining table in the coming weeks. Negotiations between the two sides had largely lapsed over the past several months.

Workers who have helped lead the organizing said the development had surprised them. “It still feels pretty surreal right now,” said Michelle Eisen, a longtime barista at a Starbucks in Buffalo that was the first company-owned store to unionize during the current campaign. “There has not been a single call I’ve been on today where either I wasn’t crying or everyone else wasn’t crying.”

If a framework is agreed to and quickly leads to contracts, experts said, it could be a major development in labor relations in corporate America, where companies like Amazon and Apple have resisted union organizing to varying degrees.

“If Starbucks genuinely intends to respect workers’ right to organize, stop its intimidation and harassment of pro-union workers, and engage in real good-faith bargaining, this is a huge step forward,” John Logan, a professor at San Francisco State University who is an expert on how companies respond to union campaigns, said in an email.

But Dr. Logan said he wanted to withhold judgment on the value of the framework until details were available. “There’s plenty of reason to be cautious: Over the past 2.5 years, the company has engaged in one of the most aggressive and unlawful anti-union campaigns in modern history,” he said.

The shift appears to have been driven by the company’s chief executive, Laxman Narasimhan, who took over nearly a year ago.

Mr. Narasimhan’s predecessor, Howard Schultz, told The New York Times in 2022 that he could not imagine ever embracing the union. He remains a large shareholder in Starbucks but is no longer on its board of directors.

Former executives who have spoken with Mr. Narasimhan have said he is less resistant to the union.

The company announced in December that it was seeking to restart contract bargaining, and Mr. Narasimhan sent out a conciliatory message soon after indicating that the company wanted to improve its relationship with employees, whom it calls partners.

“Our goal next year is to further reinvigorate our partner culture,” Mr. Narasimhan wrote, adding that “it is time to restitch the fabric of the green apron for all partners.”

People on both sides said the breakthrough — including an agreement on broad principles — came about during mediation last week to resolve lawsuits between the union and the company.

Workers at more than 20 stores had filed petitions to unionize their stores one day last week — the most ever in one day, according to the union — reflecting the persistence of the campaign.

Unaddressed in the discussions so far is a dissident campaign for three seats on the Starbucks board backed by a coalition of unions that includes the parent of Workers United. Shareholders can vote on the candidates up until the company’s annual meeting in mid-March if no compromise is reached before, but the framework announcement could diminish the rationale for a change in the eyes of many investors.