(Bloomberg) -- Starbucks Corp. said it reached out to the union representing hundreds of its stores to try to end an impasse over contract talks, a conflict that has frayed the coffee giant’s relationship with some of its frontline employees.
The chain is looking for talks to resume with a “set of representative stores in January” and is setting a goal of completing “bargaining and the ratification of contracts in 2024,” Starbucks Chief Partner Officer Sara Kelly said in a letter dated Dec. 8 addressed to Workers United President Lynne Fox. The company said it’s open to “ideas and rules of engagement on how bargaining could proceed.”
Fox said the union received the letter and will respond after reviewing it. “We’ve never said no to meeting with Starbucks,” she said in an emailed statement. “Anything that moves bargaining forward in a positive way is most welcome.”
It’s been about two years since Workers United clinched its first victory at a Starbucks cafe in Buffalo, New York. Since then, about 350 of the chain’s 9,000 corporate-run US locations have voted to join, but none has come close to securing a union contract with the company.
“We collectively agree, the current impasse should not be acceptable to either of us,” Kelly said in the letter. “It has not helped Starbucks, Workers United or, most importantly, our partners. In this spirit, we are asking for your support and agreement to restart bargaining.”
The two sides have disagreed in many store locations about ground rules for the meetings, including whether workers should be allowed to participate via videoconference. Last month, the coffee chain alleged that it’s been months since the union agreed to meet for contract talks, while the union claimed Starbucks has refused to meet unless workers agreed to illegal infringements on their rights.
In the letter, Kelly asked Workers United to commit to conducting sessions without video and audio feeds or recording. Starbucks is also looking to schedule sessions “to ensure partners at each store have an opportunity to participate,” Kelly wrote. She said Starbucks will “refrain from any disparaging, profane, threatening, discriminatory, or abusive language, gestures, or conduct” and will “agree to maintain the confidentiality of personal information and personnel matters.”
Regional directors of the US National Labor Relations Board have issued more than 100 complaints against the company, alleging illegal anti-union tactics including closing stores, firing activists, and refusing to fairly negotiate at unionized cafes. The NLRB’s general counsel also determined that the coffee chain violated labor law by refusing to participate in collective bargaining sessions if some workers were present via videoconference, an agency spokesperson said earlier this year.
Starbucks has denied wrongdoing, saying the union is the party refusing to negotiate in good faith.
Recent flashpoints in the relationship include a strike in November in which thousands of baristas claimed the coffee chain has refused to negotiate fairly with the union. The walkout coincided with Red Cup Day, when Starbucks gives out holiday-themed reusable cups.
Starbucks also sued Workers United in October on the heels of the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, saying the group used the company’s intellectual property in social media posts suggesting the company supported violence against civilians. The union responded to the chain’s allegations with its own lawsuit for defamation, accusing the company of seeking to “exploit the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East to harm the union’s reputation.”
Starbucks posted results that topped expectations for the quarter ended Oct. 1 and provided a better-than-feared outlook for fiscal 2024. But lately, concerns have emerged over the company’s sales after third-party data signaled a “material slowing” in November, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst John Ivankoe.
Starbucks shares were little changed in New York trading. The stock has declined in 13 of the last 15 days, excluding Friday, pushing the shares’ year-to-date decline to about 3%. The S&P 500 Index has advanced 19% this year.
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