Drives to organize build to tense legal disputes
By ANDREA JAMES
The scene: An off-duty Starbucks barista lounges at the East Ninth Street store in Manhattan, wearing a union button. A customer, who happens to be a manager at another Starbucks store, enters to buy a drink, sees the button and asks about it.
The dialogue grows hot. Starbucks employees don't need a union because they get health benefits, a 401(k) plan and stock options, the manager says.
Things then start "to happen really fast and get really loud," the barista recounts at a trial. "He was in my face, and basically we started having an argument. He got into my face and raised his hands up."
The barista tells the manager, "You can go f*** yourself, if you want to f*** me up, go ahead, I'm here."
This drama is part of an 88-page ruling that illustrates the ongoing tension between Starbucks Corp. and the Starbucks Workers Union.
In December, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. violated federal labor law by trying to stop union organizing at four Manhattan cafes. Starbucks is appealing the decision.
That trial, which took place between July and October 2007, produced a decision that reads at times like a reality-TV script, revealing Starbucks baristas and managers yelling at each other, mishandling blenders and cursing.
Union sparring at Starbucks cafes? It wasn't supposed to be that way.
In the 1980s, Starbucks unionized before Howard Schultz took over as chief executive officer in 1987. He gave baristas health care plus a share of the profit. When the AIDS epidemic was at its height, Starbucks paid for terminal illness care for employees for 29 months until the government took over.
By 1992, the company was union-free.