Cornell University has decided not to renew a contract to serve Starbucks coffee, a win for labor organizers’ efforts to make the company pay a price for shutting down unionized stores.
(Bloomberg) — Cornell University has decided not to renew a contract to serve Starbucks coffee, a win for labor organizers’ efforts to make the company pay a price for shutting down unionized stores.
In May, Starbucks Corp. announced it would close its last two unionized corporate-run cafés in Cornell’s hometown of Ithaca, New York. It had previously shuttered the other location that organized. In response, Cornell’s student government passed a resolution, and activists staged a sit-in demanding that the university cease serving Starbucks coffee at its own cafés in response to the alleged union-busting.
“Cornell Dining does not intend to serve Starbucks Coffee in its café venues after the current agreement with the company expires in 2025,” the school’s vice president for university relations, Joel Malina, said in an email. The university will instead consult with the student government on an “inclusive process” to transition to a new vendor.
Starbucks didn’t immediately provide comment. The company has denied retaliating against workers and said that it’s dealing with the union in good faith. The Ithaca stores were struggling with numerous absences and high turnover, according to Starbucks.
Over the past two years, Starbucks Workers United has prevailed in elections at around 350 of Starbucks’ roughly 9,000 corporate-run US stores, starting with an initial landmark victory in Buffalo, New York. But none of the unionized stores has come close to reaching a collective bargaining agreement, and the pace of the union’s growth has slowed. Organizers have blamed that on alleged retaliation in the stores and stonewalling at the bargaining table. Starbucks has accused the union of focusing on “escalating publicity stunts” rather than contract talks.
Regional directors of the US National Labor Relations Board have issued 100 complaints accusing Starbucks of illegal anti-union tactics, including one accusing the company of refusing to fairly negotiate at unionized stores across the country. Another alleges one of the stores near Cornell was shut down “in large part to discourage unionization efforts in Ithaca and elsewhere.” Judges and NLRB members have ordered the company to reinstate 28 terminated activists.
Starbucks has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. At a March US Senate hearing about the company’s alleged union-busting, former chief executive Howard Schultz said “we have not broken the law,” and “we do nothing that is nefarious.”
Starbucks has licensing agreements that facilitate the sale of its coffee on many college campuses, as well as other third-party sites such as supermarkets and hotels.
Students on other campuses have urged Starbucks be kicked off over the labor dispute, and last month Starbucks workers held a press conference outside Philadelphia City Hall urging the city council replace the chain with another local unionized coffee shop at a city park.
“So far consequences have been extremely limited for Starbucks union-busting,” said Cornell student activist and former Starbucks employee Nick Wilson. “But if institutions like Cornell that represent young people and represent more altruistic values are willing to take a stand, I think that represents a huge opportunity for workers to gain some leverage.”
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