On his first day back as chief executive of Starbucks, billionaire Howard Schultz said during a town hall Monday that the coffee giant and other U.S. companies are "being assaulted" by unionization drives, a comment that workers took as a signal of his union-busting intentions as he takes the helm amid a nationwide wave of organizing."
Here's where it gets a little sensitive, because I've been coached a little bit," Schultz told an audience of employees in Seattle. "But I do want to talk about something pretty serious. We can't ignore what is happening in the country as it relates to companies throughout the country being assaulted, in many ways, by the threat of unionization."
"I can say this two ways," Schultz added. "I can say I'm anti-union, or I can say I'm pro-partner and pro-Starbucks."
The progressive media outlet More Perfect Union posted a brief clip of Schultz's remarks on Twitter:
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich argued that Schultz's remarks show that "it doesn't matter what industry: corporations are terrified of what happens when workers organize."
Schultz, now in his third stint as Starbucks CEO, has a long track record of anti-union actions and rhetoric, and employees believe he was brought back to help the company crush organizing efforts at coffee shops in dozens of states nationwide.
In response to Schultz's comments Monday, Starbucks Workers United (SWU)—an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union—tweeted that "Starbucks' best days are ahead of us because we are standing together as partners to hold Starbucks accountable to the company we believe it can be."
"At today's town hall in Seattle, Howard Schultz just said that 'there is a group—an organization—trying to take our people,'" SWU wrote. "Newsflash: Our union isn't trying to take Starbucks' people—our union is Starbucks' people!"
While Schultz's more overt anti-union comments are conspicuously absent from a round-up of the CEO's comments posted on Starbucks' website, the company's summary does include a section titled "On unionization and the need to restore trust and belief," in which Schultz characterizes unions as a divisive third party standing between management and ordinary employees.
"My job in coming back to Starbucks, is to ensure the fact that we, the collective we, co-create, reimagine a new Starbucks with our partners at the center of it all," said Schultz. "As a pro-partner company. A company that does not need someone in between us and our people."
About an hour after the town hall, Starbucks fired Phoenix-based barista Laila Dalton, a move that was seen as retaliation for her involvement in union organizing at the store where she worked.
Last month, the National Labor Relations Board issued a formal complaint against Starbucks for disciplining two employees—including Dalton—for working to unionize their Phoenix shop.
"I won't stop fighting now," Dalton tweeted Monday night following her termination.