The Wall Street Journal reports that workers at some 104 Starbucks locations went on strike over the weekend, resulting in the closure of 21 of them, over disputes related to Pride-related decor and union negotiations.
According to the story, "Earlier this month, Starbucks Workers United accused the company of limiting the ability for workers to hang Pride decorations in stores. Managers told baristas that they didn’t have enough work time to decorate, that it was a safety concern given some recent backlash against brands highlighting Pride, or that decorations didn’t align with guidelines for store environments, according to the union." The union maintains that any change in the company's approach to Pride month should have been worked out in negotiations.
However, "Starbucks’s chief executive defended the company’s commitment to the LGBTQ community and suggested advocates for the union were wrongly exploiting the situation. The company apologized to customers inconvenienced by the strikes and encouraged them to search for an operating cafe on its app.
“'We strongly disapprove of any person or group, seeking to use our partners’ cultural and heritage celebrations to create harm or flagrantly advance misinformation for self-interested-goals,' said CEO Laxman Narasimhan in an internal company message."
The Journal notes that Starbucks "gives discretion to store leaders as to how they decorate their stores across holidays and themes, as long as the approach isn’t discriminatory against any one group. If a landlord doesn’t allow for flags or signs, or a manager thinks they pose a safety problem, for example, then that store can choose to not have them."
- KC's View:
Hard to know if this is the union spoiling for a fight or Starbucks, at least at a regional level, backing off its traditional support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Maybe it is easier said than done, but this doesn't strike me as a hard issue to resolve. Narasimhan could have just sent a memo to everyone in the company saying that corporate was authorizing X number of dollars to assure that managers would have the time and resources for Pride-related decorations and activities. Managers who did not want to spend that money, or did not want to decorate their stores, would just have to file a memo explaining why.
Or, Narasimhan could've just said that the company was backing off its traditional approach to Pride month. (An approach that probably would've been untenable considering the degree to which Starbucks depends on urban markets with a strong LGBTQ+ presence.)
The problem is that Narasimhan is losing control of the narrative. Sure, he marched in the Seattle pride parade this weekend, but that does not seem to be resonating nationwide. Running a company like Starbucks - 9,000 stores in the Us, 32,000 around the world, and close to half a million employees around the world, all with differing agendas and priorities - is different from what he's done before, and he needs to have a sandpaper feel for people, not just operations.