Starbucks Announces Employee 'Connection Sessions' In New Mission

It's old news at this point, but Starbucks coffee shops across the United States have seen an increase in employee efforts to unionize. As we've covered, the pandemic is seen by many as a major catalyst in driving employees to fight for fair wages, benefits, and better working conditions from the food and beverage titan. Individually, baristas and other Starbucks workers have little power to effectively advocate for themselves against a deep-pocketed corporation, but these efforts leverage their collective strength and the know-how of union negotiators.

Predictably, Starbucks has fought tooth and nail to keep their employees from joining unions that they see as a threat to their bottom line and stock value. Tactics have included one-on-one meetings with employees and group meetings, in which unions are painted in a negative light and their supposed ill effects on profitability and employment are brought up in possibly misleading ways. Starbucks is also alleged to have disciplined and wrongfully-terminated employees who have engaged in union-organizing activities, moves which have garnered less than favorable attention from the public and shareholders.

With founder Howard Schultz — seen by many as the face of the company's anti-union activity — no longer in the CEO role, Starbucks has announced tweaks to its mission. This includes "connection" meetings aimed at fostering employee connectivity and a "sense of ownership" as well as boosting morale, according to a company press release.

Building connections

The new, two-hour meetings will be carried out in 10,000 U.S. and Canadian Starbucks stores and include 250,000 of the company's employees. "Connection" meetings began on April 24th and are slated to run through May 8th. On the docket are coffee tasting, games, and other activities, as well as a message from Starbucks' new CEO Laxman Narasimhan.

As the name implies, building connections is the core of the initiative. Baristas, shift leaders, and supervisors will spend 25 minutes "Connecting with Starbucks," a time that includes tasting the company's new Green Apron Blend of coffee. 35 minutes are devoted to "Connecting with our team" with employees participating in "self-reflection, speed connecting, share-outs and team recognition." The final hour is spent on "Connecting with our customer" as "connecting superpowers" are identified and customer service intentions shared.

Starbucks states that the meetings are not intended to address any operational issues within their stores, a move likely meant to quell fears that they may be the latest in their anti-union campaign. This comes on the heels of a March ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that forces the company to inform all employees of their right to organize a union as well as to list the very activities from which the company is prohibited. Starbucks has vowed to repeal the decision.