The Washington Post had a long piece over the weekend about Starbucks' labor issues, casting it very specifically as a battle between Howard Schultz, who grew the company into a global behemoth and has returned to the CEO job twice after having stepped down, and a country and labor movement that has undergone fundamental changes.
"The 69-year-old CEO had always seen himself as the good guy of American capitalism, believing that his own wealth and Starbucks’s rise to become one of the most ubiquitous brands on the planet was a direct outgrowth of the company’s concern for its workers and their well-being.
"Only now all of that was being challenged. Across America, workers who had labored through a once-in-a-century pandemic were concluding that they deserved better and were quitting or demanding more from their bosses, or in the case of some Starbucks workers, unionizing … On picket lines outside the stores, pro-union workers were slamming Schultz as a greedy, out-of-touch billionaire with a $130 million yacht. The National Labor Relations Board was accusing Starbucks in court filings of carrying out a 'virulent, widespread and well-orchestrated' anti-union campaign that relied on firings, threat and surveillance. Democratic senators who once praised Schultz as a 'pathbreaking' and humane leader were now castigating him for undermining his workers’ rights.
"To Schultz, the unionization drive felt like an attack on his life’s work. In previous speeches to his employees, he had cast the union as 'a group trying to take our people,' an 'outside force that’s trying desperately to disrupt our company' and 'an adversary that’s threatening the very essence of what [we] believe to be true'."
The Post recounts a speech to some 200 Starbucks' executives:
"'Why is this so personal to me?' he asked the executives in the room. Schultz stared down at the ground, his arms resting on his knees and his shoulders bent.
"'I know what it has taken to build this place. I know what’s at stake right now,' he continued, struggling to get the words out. 'And we have to show — … to show up in a different way.' The room fell silent. Schultz steadied himself.
"'And let me be honest with you,' he told them. 'Time is not on our side'."
You can read the entire piece here.