Starbucks' investor day on Tuesday highlighted a topic that usually gets short shrift at shareholder-focused events: labor. As part of a broader reinvention plan, the company provided a roadmap of planned changes around hiring, scheduling, and career development that are designed to rebuild trust with employees.
This comes as the company contends with a nationwide union drive, which has led to the certification of 224 stores by the National Labor Relations Board. While outgoing CEO Howard Schultz has pushed back against the effort, and organizers have accused him of union-busting, the company struck a more conciliatory tone during the event.
"We have a trust deficit with our partners, not all our partners, but far too many of our partners," said Frank Britt, executive vice president at Starbucks.
He added that some causes of the strained labor relations are "exogenous," including a historically tight labor market for frontline workers but many are "self-induced."
Specifically, he said workers should have more flexibility to schedule their lives, and that Starbucks was planning to accommodate that. He also said the company was moving away from "one-size-fits-all career paths" for a more personalized approach that reflects workers' varying levels of commitment.
In addition, Britt stressed the need to provide more support for store managers, who he said were the "heart and soul" of a store, including leadership training and more flexible tools for scheduling their staff.
The executive hinted at making the work itself easier for employees, though he didn't provide details on what that might entail. "The reality is that it's still a very difficult environment inside our stores, despite the progress we've made as a company," he said.
As for more specific proposals, the company officially announced the launch of two programs that will help employees save money and manage their student loans.
“We’ve heard from our partners and know that pressures of inflation, in addition to debt and savings are weighing heavily on them,” said Ron Crawford, the senior vice president of Total Rewards for Starbucks, in a press statement. "Providing industry-leading benefits for our partners is a cornerstone of who we are as a company."
The presentation on labor practices came after Schultz provided a high-level overview of the company's recent history and stressed the need for a strategic pivot to ensure it thrives going forward. "We're reinventing the company, but we're not reinventing what we do, just reinventing how we do it," he said.
Schultz also took a moment during the event to effectively pass the torch to incoming CEO Laxman Narasimhan, who starts on October 1.
While the company's top brass talked about reinvention, however, union organizers were gathered outside Starbucks' flagship store in Seattle to protest an "aggressive union-busting campaign," according to a press release. Workers from multiple Seattle locations went on strike Tuesday to make a statement during the investor event.
“Starbucks workers are referred to as partners, which is ironic given that the company abjectly refuses to partner with us," said Billie Adeosun, a barista since 2015 in Olympia, Washington. "They’ve delayed bargaining. They’ve lied to employees. They have proven that they value their performatively liberal brand and their profits more than the workers who bring in that revenue. It’s insulting, and, unfortunately for Howard Schultz and his ilk, the working class will not be silenced.”