Starbucks Was Accused Of Threatening An Important Health Care Benefit

Bloomberg reports that Starbucks managers in some states have threatened baristas with the loss of transgender-inclusive health care should they unionize. The news outlet quotes an employee who used their benefits package stating that their manager issued a veiled threat in a discussion about workplace benefits during a private meeting where the manager brought up unionization. According to the report, this was not an isolated incident, with complaints echoed by other store workers in the same Oklahoma City location as well as a complaint issued in Kansas about threats to gender-affirming care.

NPR recently reported that Starbucks offered their employees a new, expanded benefit package, which included a minimum 3% raise, credit card tipping, and extended training. These new benefits, according to recently re-installed interim CEO Howard Schultz, were only available to stores that were not unionizing. Schultz claimed on an earnings call that the company "was not permitted by law" to implement the new package at the stores that were unionized or in the middle of organizing. Workers United, Starbucks' national union, cried foul and lodged a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

In December of 2019, the Elmwood Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York was the first in the country to unionize, writes Thrillist. This kicked off a unionizing effort that spread across the country, with more than 100 locations voting to join Workers United in the months following, according to The Guardian.

Starbucks accused of threatening inclusive health care benefit

In an industry where employers typically provide nothing more than an hourly wage, Starbucks, once viewed as a progressive company, was widely praised for offering a comprehensive benefit to part-time employees since 1988 (via Starbucks). In comparison, the Economic Policy Institute writes that only 14.4% of restaurant workers receive health insurance.

In 2018, the coffee chain became the first company to offer inclusionary benefits to its trans-employees that moved beyond render reassignment, which Starbucks has included in its medical coverage since 2012 (via Them). The expanded benefits include cosmetic procedures not typically covered by health insurance, like breast augmentation and hair grafting. Starbucks worked with World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) in creating the groundbreaking benefits package. The company recently added travel reimbursement to their benefits package for employees who had to travel over 100 miles from home for an abortion or gender-affirming surgeries, a response to the tightened restrictions on abortion access and anti-trans bills being passed in certain states (via CNBC).

Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges denies the allegations, telling Bloomberg, "We are not threatening our partners with the loss of benefits if they join a union...We take a great deal of pride in offering industry-leading benefits and have done so for more than 50 years."