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Starbucks' Fight with Unions Comes Down to This Brutal 7-Word Truth. Content courtesy of Inc.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Starbucks' Fight with Unions Comes Down to This Brutal 7-Word Truth. Every Leader Should Pay Close Attention.

Content courtesy of Inc.

By Jason Aten, Tech Columnist

Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz has always been staunchly against unionization at the company's stores. During his three different runs as CEO, he hasn't been shy about his feelings that employees shouldn't need to join a union to be treated fairly.

In the past few years, the company has been aggressive in its efforts to slow down the push to form unions at its more than 9,000 stores. It's one of the reasons Starbucks brought its founder back to the top role. Schultz argued that the company lost its way under its previous leadership, and that's a big part of why employees are pushing to unionize.

Whatever you think about Starbucks, or unions, or Schultz, he makes an important point that every business leader should consider.

"Some decisions were made that I would not have made," Schultz told CNN. "As a result of that, I think people did lose trust in the leadership of the company." 

If you think about it, once your team loses trust in the leadership of your company, it shouldn't come as a surprise that they might try to do something about it. Unionization is simply the logical conclusion of that thread. 

Basically, Schultz is saying that if your employees are trying to form a union, you're doing something wrong. As for Starbucks, he says the reason employees want to be a part of a union is because the company "was not leading in a way that was consistent with its history."

I'm not suggesting that unions are bad--but I'm suggesting they always organize in response to something. The reality is that whatever that something is, you usually have a lot more influence over it than you might think. The problem is, you just didn't think it was as big a deal as your employees did. 

To that end, I think Schultz has a point. If Starbucks' employees trusted the company's leadership to do the right thing for them, they would have a lot less motivation to form a union. Inherently, the reason for forming a union is to force an employer to listen to employees and make change. If your employees were happy with their working conditions, they wouldn't be asking for change.

It's important to understand that you might be paying your employees well and giving them good benefits, but if you lose their trust, none of that matters. If they don't feel like they're being treated fairly, you have a problem.

Notice that the standard isn't whether you think you're treating them fairly, or whether an outside observer might think so. It isn't even whether your employees think they are being treated fairly. The question is whether your employees feel that way. 

That disconnect explains a lot of the reason employees lost trust in leadership. On the one hand, executives look at things like spreadsheets and comparables and financial statements. They analyze and rationalize and come up with plans that make sense on paper. 

The thing is, what makes sense on paper doesn't always feel fair to your employees, because feelings are tricky. Employees don't care about those spreadsheets. What they care about is whether they are satisfied in their job, enjoy the people they work with, and feel respected by management. If you lose that, there's nothing a spreadsheet can do to help you win it back.