As Starbucks' Storied CEO Returns, Familiar Fight Looms

Howard Schultz will be interim leader as company faces a unionization movement
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 20, 2022 10:10 AM CDT
As Starbucks' Storied CEO Returns, Familiar Fight Looms
Former Starbucks CEO and founder Howard Schultz is returning as chief executive.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

From the time he bought Starbucks in 1987 to the time he stepped down as chairman in 2018, Howard Schultz consistently—and successfully—fought attempts to unionize Starbucks’ US stores and roasting plants, per the AP. But Schultz—who was just named Starbucks’ interim chief executive—never confronted a unionization movement as big and fast-growing as the current one. Six US Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since December, and at least 140 more in 27 states have filed petitions for union elections. It’s unclear how Schultz will tackle the issue when he returns to the company in April.

“He took it really personally that his workers wanted to be part of a union, because he thought with him in charge they wouldn’t need it,” said Pam Blauman-Schmitz, a retired union representative who worked to organize Starbucks’ first stores in the early 1980s. “He would say stuff like, ‘Maybe you need unions in the coal mines, but not at Starbucks stores.'" Starbucks announced this week that its CEO of five years, Kevin Johnson, was retiring. The company tapped Schultz to serve as interim CEO until it finds a permanent replacement by this fall. Schultz, 68, who has held the honorary title of chairman emeritus since 2018, is also rejoining the company’s board.

It is not yet clear if Schultz will try to amp up the fight against unionization. But Timothy Hubbard of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business said he is well-positioned to do so. “My sense is that if they want to shut down the unions, this is the best course of action,” Hubbard said. “Schultz has what it takes to tackle a hard topic like unions.” Read the full story, which details Schultz's push against unions when he was CEO and afterward. "I am saddened and concerned to hear anyone thinks that is needed now,” he wrote in November. But to many union organizers, who complain of inconsistent hours, poor training, understaffing, and low wages, Shultz’s words fell flat.

(Read more Starbucks stories.)

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