Leaked footage of a video call in which Starbucks’ billionaire CEO urges managers to step up their efforts to thwart worker unionization is yet another sign of the company’s growing desperation, labor advocates said on Thursday.
In the undated video published by the pro-worker media organization More Perfect Union, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz—who earlier this month became the company’s CEO for the third time—implored managers “to encourage [employees] to really understand what it might mean to vote for a union.”
Offering no evidence, Schultz—who referred to unionizing employees as “so-called workers” and “a new outside force that’s trying desperately to disrupt our company”—said, “I wasn’t there, but there are stories that people potentially had been bullied not to vote.”
Starbucks North America president Rossann Williams also appears in the video, telling managers that it’s their “number one responsibility” to “do your role” to ensure that employees “get balanced information about what’s going on.”
Williams also implored Starbucks employees to be skeptical of accounts published by workers who say they’ve experienced corporate retaliation and union-busting.
“Don’t believe everything you see in social media,” she said. “For those of you that have reached out, it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking for me to see and hear how some partners are talking about the company that I love.”
According to More Perfect Union, Starbucks has “regularly shut down stores, isolated new workers, held captive audience meetings, and subjected workers to a barrage of emails, texts, and videos with anti-union rhetoric.”
Starbucks Workers United, the union behind the organizing efforts, says it has filed more than 80 unfair labor practice complaints against the company with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
On Wednesday, Starbucks filed its own unfair labor practice charges against members of Starbucks Workers United, accusing them of a “consistent pattern of disturbing behavior.”
In response to the complaints, the union said that “Starbucks is getting desperate as it loses this war in battle after battle, because we—the Starbucks partners—continue to organize and fight for a real voice within the company. These charges are just the latest example of that desperation.”
NLRB prosecutors on Friday formally accused Starbucks of illegally firing a group of activists seeking to unionize their Memphis, Tennessee store. On Tuesday, the NLRB filed a third lawsuit against Starbucks for alleged labor violations against unionizing workers in a Phoenix store over the past four months.
Starbucks’ pushback against organizers comes amid a nationwide wave of barista unionization. Earlier this week, workers at five Richmond, Virginia stores voted to unionize, and on Thursday employees at a flagship location in the company’s hometown of Seattle elected to join Starbucks Workers United.
Since Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York filed for a union election last summer, employees at more than 200 stores across the country have sought to unionize.
“We can resist and thrive,” said Seattle organizer Brennen Collins, “even among a storm of disinformation and fearmongering perpetrated against our best interests.”