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Starbucks workers protest before annual shareholder meeting

SEATTLE (AP) – Starbucks workers and labour activists rallied outside the company’s Seattle headquarters on Wednesday to protest what they describe as union-busting efforts by executives.

Organisers said employees also walked off the job at more than 100 stores in 40 United States (US) cities, though the company disputed the breadth of the protests and said nearly every store remained open. It did not immediately indicate how many locations closed.

Some stores remained open because workers remained on the job, while others were staffed by employees from nearby stores who took additional shifts to cover for strikers, Starbucks said.

The demonstrations came on the eve of the company’s annual shareholders meeting and were designed to urge new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Laxman Narasimhan to take a more welcoming approach to unionisation efforts, said organisers with Starbucks Workers United, which has asked shareholders to vote for a third party to assess the company’s commitment to labour rights.

“Starbucks baristas like me are the ones who keep our stores running. We remember our customers’ regular orders, make the lattes, clean up spills, and are often the bright spot of our customers’ days,” Sarah Pappin, a Seattle Starbucks worker, said in a prepared statement. “Starbucks should respect our right to organise and meet us at the bargaining table.”

Members of different labour unions join Starbucks unionised employees for a labour protest outside Starbucks Corporate Headquarters in Seattle, United States. PHOTO: AP

At least 280 company-owned US Starbucks stores have voted to unionise since late 2021.

Workers are asking for better pay, more consistent schedules and safer stores, among other things. Starbucks and the union have not yet reached a contract agreement at any of those stores.

The company opposes unionisation, saying it already provides industry-leading benefits and that its stores function better when the company works directly with employees. The labour activists said workers have trouble obtaining enough hours to qualify for Starbucks benefits.

Each side has repeatedly complained of the other’s tactics to the National Labor Relations Board. Last week, a federal labour judge found the company violated US labour laws “hundreds of times” during a unionisation campaign in Buffalo, New York.

The judge ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven fired workers and required former CEO Howard Schultz to read or be present at a reading of employee rights and distribute a recording of the reading to all of Starbucks’ US employees.

Faced with a possible vote to subpoena him, Schultz has agreed to testify next week before a US Senate committee headed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

The panel is examining Starbucks’ actions amid the unionisation campaign.