Trade Union Problems at Starbucks





Trade Union Problems at Starbucks





Trade Union Problems at Starbucks

The problem with Starbucks and its workers is that of a capitalist seeking to maximize profits while ensuring minimal production costs. Both Webbs and Perlman ably describe this phenomenon in their theories of why trade unions arose. They both concur that trade unions came into being after the industrial unions with owners and business people seeking to maximize their gain at the expense of their workers. According to Webbs, workers were agitated by the poor living conditions and to their pay at the workplace (Webb & Webb, 1920). In effect, noticing the divisions between the rich and poor aggravated their need to seek for better pay so that they could be able to meet their needs adequately. In effect, the problems at the workplace can only be solved if issues in the society are addressed.

In his theory, Perlman notes that capitalism was a major catalyst for the development of unions. He further argues that through the industrial revolution, there was the need to separate the owners of labor as well as the givers of capital (Perlman, 1922). However, for the workers and laborers to present their case effectively to capitalists, they required an able form of representation. This implies that the working class was not adequate to content with the influence and power of the capitalists. Thus, the support of the middle-class people was imperative. Nonetheless, it was also necessary that these groups respect certain aspects of capitalism, to win their support one way or the other (Perlman, 1922). These are like the right to own property. Thus, it was impossible that unions agree to all these tenets to gain the support of capitalist, thus, the push and shove behavior. Essentially, what motivates trade unions according to Perlman is the laborer psychology, as these are people with an experience of limited job opportunities. Thus, while these groups strive to ensure that their members have jobs, they also try to ensure that they balance the tenets of capitalism with fair gains for the workers (Perlman, 1922).

Overall, while webs advocate that the development of unions is to ensure social change for the workers, Perlman states that the trade unions should be able to ensure they provide equal standards and opportunities for the workers. The analysis of both theories is applicable in understanding the dilemma facing Starbucks. Essentially by using webs theory as a benchmark, Starbucks is a capitalist business with the need to ensure maximum gains and limited costs. Primarily, Starbucks operates in a competitive coffee markets with other key players like Mc Donald’s. In effect, the company is struggling to ensure that they retain their top most position in the market being that they have long been credited as the undisputed premium coffee makers. According to Webbs, such businesses operating in a competitive climate are not able to raise their product prices for fear of losing their customers (Webb & Webb, 1920). With the low product cost, it is quite difficult to maximize company profits unless the production costs are cut down. With the use of machinery, such costs are fixed and the only possible avenue to cut down on costs is through offering a minimum wage pay to their workers. Primarily, through one of the company reports, the company seeks to reduce the total contribution due to the employees by trimming their contributions (James, 2009).

The issue with Starbucks is the need to control the behavior and the productivity of the workers. Webbs states that capitalistic business and business owners dictate work practices for their workers to ensure a maximum gain. Mostly, the management wants to define what is right or bad for the employees with no consideration of what they want. As such, it is not the right and mandate of the company to decide whether or not the workers should decide if they should have one or not (James, 2009). Such is the typical behavior of the sentiments expressed by the CEO of the company who thinks that the workers get significant benefits, and they should be content. This contends the view purported by Perlman when he states the reasons for developing a trade union. The latter says that workers and capitalist have nothing in common. In effect, it is inadequate for capitalist and high class to assume that they understand the struggle of the laborer.

According to Webbs, it is imperative that the work lives of workers are improved owing to their weak social state. To ensure such improvements, trade unions are to ensure that they advocate for mutual employee interests and collective bargaining (Webb & Webb, 1920). Through the mutual insurance objective, members can accumulate funds by paying membership fees and later, these monies are given to workers with an inability to go to work. One of the ways that these payments could be made was through friendly payments for sick or injured workers or out of work payments for those whose jobs were closed (Webb & Webb, 1920). The former is a typical case of the need to improve Starbucks workers lives. It is apparent that Starbucks does not consider social conditions of their employees or need to alleviate their position should they experience health difficulties. When Anna Hurst is taken off her schedule for two weeks following a stroke, this is evident that she would not get paid for the month (Herbst, 2008). Was it not those members of her trade union and baristas marched into the manager’s office demanding for her compensation, and then the company would not be bothered at all. Such an incident highlights the need to form trade unions as capitalists hardly care for the social needs of their workers. In fact, they are more enthusiastic about creating wider social discrepancies than narrowing them.

Secondly, Perlman correctly explains the issue with trade unions when they are either congested with the upper class, middle class or laborers. Perlman argues that there is a need to ensure that the trade unions have a balanced membership of the three societal levels to ensure that they can gain support from capitalists in power (Perlman, 1922). For instance, most of the laborers working at Starbucks are the baristas, who are also considered to be part-time employees of the company. Nonetheless, their poor pay implies that they hardly live a comfortable life, and their working hours as well, limit their flexibility to get other jobs, to balance their jobs. In effect, they perfectly understand the idea of work scarcity and are a perfect representation of the people that the trade union represents. Thus, this is the main group of people that are involved with the trade unions, making about 300 members (Herbst, 2008). However, they have the inability to represent themselves and contend with the power and influence of their employer thus, the involvement with the national labor relations board. In effect, this board acts a possible contender for the power and influence possessed by the corporation.

First, the reaction of Starbucks to the labor problem is a continuous violation of the right to collective bargaining. Workers all over the country have been predisposed with the right to bargain collectively for fair pay and equal working standards. According to Perlman, the idea of trade unions is to ensure that workers can get equal opportunities in the workplace as well as standards. Mainly, Starbucks policy on trade unions seems to violate this thought through the premise that such formations are unnecessary. In fact, the company CEO states that considering that the workers have a health policy plan, they should be grateful. Such sentiments and reasoning are likely to impact on the workers and trade unions, worsening the already poor relationship (Herbst, 2008). In effect, every time the union tries to present the complaints of the workers, their legibility is questioned and motive crushed.

It is possible that the problems with Starbucks and trade unions will become worse in future. Starbucks is likely to lose their social appeal due to their highly capitalistic nature. While the company asserts that they are socially conscious, this should be eminent win the way they relate to their employees as their staffs are their first social obligation. In effect, it is possible that the public will slowly pull away from the brand, despite their premium pricing, in search of socially responsible competitors.



Herbst, M. (2008, Dec 30th). Starbucks union blues. Bloomberg. Retrieved from

James, A. (2009, Feb 16). Starbucks spars over union: Drives to organize build to tense legal dispute. Seattle PI. Retrieved from

Perlman, S. (1922). A history of trade unionism in the United States. London, UK: Macmillan Publishers.

Webb, S., & Webb, B. (1920). The history of trade unionism. London, UK: Longmans.


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