Starbucks management has reportedly threatened employees with the loss of trans-inclusive health benefits if they vote to unionize their shops, drawing a formal complaint from workers as the union officially reached 150 election victories across the United States on Tuesday.
Just last month, Starbucks—which has offered trans-inclusive benefits since 2012—announced it would cover travel expenses for employees who obtain gender-affirming care out of state, a decision that came as a growing number of Republican-controlled state legislatures moved to pass anti-trans legislation.
But it now appears that Starbucks is trying to wield those health benefits as a weapon against union organizing, which has reached hundreds of the company’s locations across the United States.
“Starbucks is telling its baristas that unionizing could jeopardize the gender-affirming healthcare coverage for transgender employees that the company offers, according to a complaint filed with the federal labor board,” CNBC reported Tuesday.
Bloomberg, which first reported the complaint filed by Workers United, noted that “Starbucks Corp. managers in several states have told baristas that its vaunted transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits could go away if they unionize.” The Workers United complaint alleges that Starbucks has engaged in unlawful coercion by “threatening employees with loss of benefits.”
Neha Cremi, a Starbucks employee in Oklahoma—a state that has enacted a series of anti-trans measures in recent months—said that Starbucks “realizes that we as trans partners feel particularly vulnerable at this time” and is attempting to exploit that vulnerability.
“I think that in some cases they are willing to take advantage of that,” said Cremi. “We feel powerless on a state level. Unionizing our store at least gives us something small to grab onto, that we can make our store a safe place.”
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, called Starbucks’ latest union-busting tactic “disgusting.”
Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner wrote on Twitter that she has heard from several baristas in Cleveland about Starbucks’ threats against trans health benefits.
“If you’re willing to play around with trans-inclusive care as it relates to unionization,” Turner wrote, “not only do you not respect your employees, you don’t truly don’t recognize the humanity of your trans employees.”
Starbucks has ramped up its aggressive anti-union push in recent weeks as workers in state after state have moved to exercise their collective bargaining rights, persisting in the face of management’s ongoing campaign to slash benefits, cut hours, and shut down entire locations.
Last week, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz signaled that he has no intention of cooperating with unionized shops despite legal requirements to bargain in good faith. The National Labor Relations Board has accused Starbucks of violating federal law hundreds of times over the past six months, but the company does not seem deterred.
“We are in business to exceed the expectations of our customers,” Schultz said during a New York Times event on Thursday. “The customer experience will be significantly challenged and less than if a third party is integrated into our business.”
On Tuesday, Starbucks Workers United announced that the union has officially scored 150 election victories nationwide as organizing momentum continues to grow in the wake of historic wins in Buffalo in December.
“For context,” the group noted, “there were ZERO unionized Starbucks stores six months ago.”
Starbucks Workers United at Massapequa, New York, recalled that when it first filed for a union election in February, just 60 other locations had done the same. That number is now in the hundreds—and the union has won an overwhelming majority of elections held thus far.
“Absolutely incredible,” the Massapequa branch said. “So proud of everyone who has been part of this.”
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Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep