Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz told a weekly meeting of store managers on Monday that the benefits he is considering extending to non-union employees will not apply immediately to the company’s new employees.
The statement, just over a week after Mr Schultz’s third tour as CEO, came after workers in at least 16 company stores voted in favor of unionization in the past six months, although the National Labor Council has not yet has certified all results.
Since Mr. Schultz returned as CEO, Starbucks has fired at least three unions that a spokesman said violated company policies. Mr Schultz also stopped buying back shares so that the company “has the opportunity to invest more in our partners and stores”, he said in a letter to employees on Sunday and met with employees in several cities to ask their ideas to improve the company.
Two appearances became controversial when Mr Schultz faced union officials.
A Starbucks spokesman said comments about Monday’s benefits came during a question-and-answer session when Mr Schultz was asked how the new benefits the company was considering could fit into the union’s campaign.
Speaking paraphrasing Mr Schultz, the spokesman said that the CEO had replied that when we introduce a benefit, “we are not allowed by law to unilaterally provide this benefit to stores that have voted for a union while in collective bargaining”.
The spokesman said the issue of benefits arose from staff contributions in recent sessions with Mr Schultz and that the Starbucks boss had not provided examples of benefits he was considering or when they could be offered.
The comments were made earlier by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
Labor law experts said companies are allowed to discuss the difference in benefits that union and non-union workers receive, but cannot make implicit promises that employees will receive better benefits if they choose not to merge.
Matthew Bodie, a former labor law lawyer who teaches law at St. Louis University, said the comments could be interpreted as undermining the so-called laboratory conditions needed for the upcoming union election if it was public, but not necessarily if have been expected to remain confidential. Mr Bodie said the comments could still be evidence of an intention to negotiate in bad faith, trying to give union officials a worse deal than non-union workers, which is also considered unfair work practice.
Wilma Liebman, a former chair of the National Labor Council, said the time for potential benefits was in question as it was unclear whether they would have been added had it not been for the union campaign.
Although it is difficult to know for sure whether Mr Schultz crossed the legal line without reviewing his exact comments, which the company did not provide, the spokesman said Mr Schultz had simply indicated what the law required.
Mr Schultz was outspoken in his opposition to the union. In his letter Sunday, he suggested that many officials who support unionization were “colluding with external union forces” and wrote that he did not believe that the conflict, division and disagreements that had been at the heart of the union were benefit Starbucks or our partners. ”
He added that less than 1% of more than 200,000 Starbucks employees in the United States voted in favor of unionization, and that approximately 65% of employees eligible to vote in union elections did not vote.