The news that the employees of Starbucks are starting to unionize in the United States will potentially lead to the demise of one of the most iconic US businesses.
I will be accused of being anti-union, anti-worker, and probably a Republican, by saying that but my comment has nothing to do with supporting, or not supporting, Starbucks employees in their fight for equitable treatment. It has to do with corruption of the concept of unions.
On December 21, 2021, the employees of the Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize despite every effort of Starbucks corporate to dissuade them from doing so. Since then, 187 Starbucks across the US have followed suit. In addition, 97 have opened union discussions. That’s only a small percentage of the 8,947 company-operated locations and 6,497 licensed locations in the US, but it is indicative of the future. I am not counting any Starbucks located outside of the US because they are operating under the laws of the country where they are located.
In principle, I agree totally with the idea that employees should band together to fight for their employee rights and benefits. However, let’s examine what may well happen as the Starbucks employee unionization movement progresses.
The fact that so many of the Starbucks now have unionized employees, after a very short time – basically in a six-month period – would strongly indicate that almost all Starbucks in the US will eventually have unionized employees.
So, what am I suggesting will happen?
Human nature will quickly throw up union leaders. Indeed, that must have happened already otherwise the unionization process would not have even begun – someone has to coordinate the effort and the process. Initially, that meant a leader of the employees in each Starbucks.
Starbucks design concept includes franchises (licensed locations). Many licensees own more than one location. In those cases, a union leader will quickly emerge who is the leader of all Starbucks employees within each franchise. Employee negotiations will then be carried out at the franchise level.
Again, human nature being what it is, some enterprising individual will then start to organize, and preside over, a city-wide Starbucks union structure, including the company locations. That will require an office and staff, so union fees will emerge to support this infrastructure.
It will not take long for a state-wide/regional organization to emerge, and that will require an increase in union fees.
At this point, politics will enter the union structure with the inevitable cost of lobbying efforts raising union fees yet again. The Starbucks union structure will gradually refocus from 100% attention on employee welfare to a growing attention on the welfare of the union itself.
The scene will now be set for the final stage in the evolution.
The existing major US unions will start to take notice of their fledgling competitor. Groups like the AFL-CIO will covet, cultivate and, eventually, try to “buy” the upstart.
As I was writing this, and coming to the obvious conclusion of an inevitable takeover of the Starbucks union by a large union, I did wonder how you actually buy a union.
I went back to the stage of Starbucks union development cited above; the re-focus of the union from attention to employee welfare to an emphasis on union welfare. It is not a question of buying a union, it is more a case of buying a person – the heads of the Starbucks unions.
Once the transaction/sale is complete, the interests of the Starbucks union members will be quickly subsumed by the overall politics of the large union’s membership.
What will this process mean for Starbucks?
Costs will inevitably rise significantly, industrial action will be far more likely, and Starbucks reputation will suffer. Its competitors, who are not unionized, will gleefully exploit the situation, and Starbucks will slowly, maybe rapidly, decline. Many employees will end up with no job.
This is not how unions are supposed to work, but it is the process that led to union decline over the past half century. There has to be a better way to represent employee interests.
Maybe, someone with foresight can write the rules of the fledgling, local Starbucks union that prohibits the organization from growing to the point where the union itself becomes more important than the individual members. Also a rule that forbids its absorption by a national union. One can only wish.
If this could happen, we might all continue to enjoy Starbucks well into the future.