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Starbucks’ Opposition To Mail-In Unionization Efforts Epitomizes Elitist Hypocrisy

Despite insisting that national elections include mail-in voting, Starbucks is cracking down on its employees’ mail-in unionization efforts.


Efforts to organize have dominated Starbucks’ internal dialogues throughout the last two years, even before the Elmwood store in Buffalo, New York, was the first to successfully unionize in 2021. Since then, more than 200 stores are now members of Starbucks Workers United, with more than 300 more headed to a vote. More than 10,000 Starbucks employees (partners) have signed the new union pledge.

For a company as progressive as Starbucks, one might assume unionization would be welcome. Founder Howard Schultz himself utilizes a crisis point in his own childhood to illustrate the benefit of organization: His father was left unable to work after he broke his ankle, leaving his family struggling to make ends meet, with no income or medical insurance. 

Protecting workers is what Starbucks is supposed to be all about, after all. Starbucks loves to share that they spend more on employee benefits than they do on anything else, including coffee.

However, despite this, Starbucks is strongly opposed to its partners’ unionization efforts. To dissuade partners from unionizing, the company is offering captive audience meetings, increased benefits packages with extended-release dates meant to forestall any new stores’ attempts at organizing, the ousting of CEO Kevin Johnson, and the return of Schultz as interim CEO. 

The Cold-Brewed Truth 

The reality is that the boards managing megacompanies such as Starbucks, Netflix, or Amazon do not actually believe in the policies they espouse support for when in front of a camera or microphone. 

Repeated evidence of their hypocrisy gets only fleeting notice from progressive politicians and corporate media. For example, their public support for the transgender movement is often mentioned, but the day-to-day running of the business tells a different story: Recent union-busting activities include reducing financial support of trans-identifying partners’ “gender-affirming care.”

Were Starbucks more committed to the progressive ideals promoted by the company, partners in union-vulnerable stores would not report being severely disciplined for indiscretions like being three minutes late for a shift or having to call out sick because they were in the hospital. 

And it’s just a coincidence that a disproportionate percentage of the stores slated for closure are involved in union activities. Only 3 percent of stores are actively engaged in organizing, but 30 percent of those slated for closing are involved in unionization.

Mail in Voting for Thee, Not for Me 

The company’s latest hypocrisy is its request to the National Labor Relations Board for suspension of mail-in ballots for union votes. The coffee giant is concerned about the mishandling of ballots and potential collusion between NLRB and union organizers. In addition, it wants all elections to be held in person, with representatives from both the union and Starbucks corporate present, to ensure fairness in how votes are validated and tabulated. 

These are all very reasonable expectations, and they’re very similar to positions conservative lawmakers hold on voter integrity in our political election process. They are also very similar to positions Starbucks publicly characterized as being an affront to the democratic process in an open letter last year, disparaging laws to protect voter integrity. 

As the letter so clearly states, “We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory … measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.” 

The missive may focus on political elections, but the right for employees to unionize is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment, which guarantees both a right to freedom of speech and freedom of association. Thus, Starbucks is attempting to engage in the exact same behavior it condemns by trying to limit the parameters in which its employees may engage in union voting.

The company’s concerns are, however, correct regarding union votes being corrupted. The accusations regarding collusion between the NLRB and the Starbucks Union are serious, and if the federally funded labor watchdog illegally provided union activists with vote tallies as the ballots came in, allowing union reps to target non-voting employees, it could cast doubt on the validity of many previously decided elections.

The accusations are based on the reports from a whistleblower within the NLRB itself, lending credence to the charges. In-person voting will cut down on the potential for fraud and this type of voter intimidation.

Starbucks clearly understands the inherent problems of mail-in ballot systems. In addition to possible coercion, rejection rates for mail-in ballots, whether absentee or universal, are high. They are subject to heightened risk of fraud, and individual ballots can be discarded should they not support the desired outcome of the people counting them. 

If Starbucks genuinely believes such serious problems are cropping up in small elections in store locations with fewer than 30 employees, the company’s position regarding political elections, where millions of votes are cast, is unconscionable. 

Americans’ ability to vote should always be protected in terms of assuring the votes cast aren’t marred by mishandling or intimidation. Voting rights, whether during a unionization process or a federal election, ought to include assuring an entity’s ability to put proper safeguards in place to ensure everyone’s vote is counted.

Nothing to See Here 

Howard Schultz and the Starbucks board of directors can live cozily in their gated communities, knowing they won’t suffer the consequences of questionable elections — the wealthy have freezers full of ice cream that cost more than many people’s cars, and lavish homes, luxury apartments, and secluded vacation spots to retire to should life become overwhelming. Elections are largely irrelevant to their overall situation, as evidenced by Schultz’s own lack of participation in the democratic process.

As with all of their double-dealing, when it comes to loosening protections for voting rights, Starbucks follows whatever shallow, leftist bandwagon is passing by — unless, of course, it threatens their bottom line. 

Their prerogative is certainly disingenuous. Election integrity isn’t just important when it comes to union organizing in their stores. Ensuring fair and free elections is the bedrock of our representative democracy. 

Maybe if Starbucks pretended that safeguarding political elections was as important to them as safeguarding the ones being held in their stores, their concerns regarding voter misconduct wouldn’t be so ludicrous. It’s doubtful they would make an effort like this, though. 

The people and organizations who promote left-wing causes, like loosening voting restrictions, don’t actually care about the long-term consequences of their actions. As long as Schultz can stay in his gated community, and progressive soccer moms in left-wing cities can continue to ignore homeless drug addicts at their local Starbucks while picking up a pumpkin spice latte, everything will be just fine.

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