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Starbucks VP Sends Pissy Letter To NFLPA Head Over Support For Workers

3:12 PM EST on December 16, 2022

Starbucks workers hold a rally on October 05, 2022 in New York City. Starbucks Workers United were joined in solidarity by various unions as they held a rally outside of a Staten Island store, slated to close for renovations later this month. They are calling for the right to negotiate employment terms and want an end to the union busting campaign that is being used against workers throughout the country.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Last Friday, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith did what prominent union heads do and lent his voice and institutional support to unionizing workers, in this case by speaking at a rally for Starbucks Workers United. Starbucks Workers United is a collective of Starbucks workers from across the country who are organizing their workplaces, store by store, with the support of SEIU-affiliated Workers United.

At the rally in Arlington, Va., Smith told the crowd about a letter the NFLPA sent to Starbucks in solidarity with the union effort.

@sbworkersunited

DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the NFL Player’s Association, calls out AJ Jones, Starbucks Executive 😤😮‍💨 #ajjones #starbucks #NFL #NFLPA #solidarity #americanfootball

♬ original sound - SBWorkersUnited

"We wrote a letter to Starbucks on behalf of the NFL players," Smith said. "And we told them, you need to stop busting unions. You need to stop busting unions because it's un-American, it's unfair, and you're stepping on the necks of the people who built America: Workers." He continued:

I want to send a little bit of a special message to the Vice President of Communications for Starbucks, because he wrote me back to tell me, a union leader, that I didn't understand what it meant to be engaged in collective bargaining. I'll tell you what, they locked our asses out for 134 days. They stepped on the necks of our workers, they tried to break the back of our union. And I know a little about collective bargaining. I know that it stands for people standing up for what's right and what's fair.

No union, union leader, or union negotiation is perfect—and that's certainly true of the NFLPA, as ESPN reported last year in its deep dive into negotiations to add a 17th game to the NFL season—but one sure way for workers to build more power in bargaining is to join forces with workers from other industries. The more that people from different fields can band together in solidarity and recognize their common fight for dignity in the workplace, whether that's on the football field or a coffee shop, the more leverage workers can exert over owners. Starbucks Vice President of Communications AJ Jones surely knows this as well as anyone, which may help explain why he sent an outrageously condescending letter to Smith, chastising him for not doing his "due diligence" before addressing Starbucks' union-busting activities.

"We are surprised and disappointed that you would base the content of your letter and stake your individual organizations’ reputations without doing primary research and speaking with us first," Jones wrote to Smith in the letter, dated Oct. 19. "This lack of due diligence is clear given the misinformation in your letter mirrors verbatim sentences from other letters we have received from Workers United. I am sure, you would agree, your dues-paying members would expect a vigorous interrogation of the facts before inserting them into the matters of a private company unrelated to your business."

The letter from Jones, which Starbucks provided to Defector, did not bother to detail what exactly in Smith's letter was "misinformation," nor explain why workers' unions using standardized language across their official communications is somehow supposed to be damning. After all, the letter from the NFLPA, which was also signed by the executive directors for the players associations for the MLB, NHL, WNBA, MLS, USWNT, and NBA, was pretty straightforward. Sent to Defector by the NFLPA, the letter detailed the facts of the Starbucks workers' unionization effort so far: In just one year, Starbucks workers have unionized 249 stores, winning more than 75 percent of union elections; more than 6,500 Starbucks workers are now represented by the union. The letter continued:

In addition to being deeply impressed with how these workers have led their own campaign, we are also painfully aware of, and deeply concerned by, the well documented allegations of illegal union busting as your Board and Management respond to these organizational efforts by a workforce that remains deeply committed to making Starbucks the best company it can be.

We are united in strongly suggesting that you immediately cease and desist the ongoing intimidation, harassment, and illegal firing of union activists. We are aware of the NLRB’s issuance of administrative complaints regarding 100 Unfair Labor Practices covering hundreds of labor law violations. We urge you to sign the Fair Elections Principles and allow your interested workforce to make their own individual and private decisions in secret ballot elections from this point forward.

We further urge you to reinstate the workers who have been fired for union activity and provide them back pay for the hours and shifts they have lost.

Finally, we encourage you to immediately initiate a sincere good faith regional and national bargaining process with Starbucks Workers United.

These are in fact well-documented patterns of behavior from Starbucks; Jones might prefer to claim "misinformation," but that doesn't negate reality. Jones's letter went on to accuse Smith of being "unproductive." It read:

As you undoubtedly know from your respective experiences, the collective bargaining
process is, unfortunately, by nature an adversarial process and negotiating via news media or letter writing campaigns is unproductive for all parties involved. As such, we are pleased that Workers United has agreed to start bargaining for more than 40 stores, on a store-by-store basis, for locations around the country. Additionally, we will continue to re-propose dates to start contract bargaining for other locations in the coming weeks and hope Workers United agrees to come to the table.

Five days after Jones sent this letter, Starbucks company lawyers stormed out of a bargaining session because some union members joined virtually.

Smith and other union leaders are doing what they are supposed to be doing: throwing their lot in with fellow workers and building common cause between unions. Jones's job is to try and manage Starbucks execs' reputations so they don't come across as a bunch of malicious rich guys and out-of-touch scolds. Oops!

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