Starbucks Is Sending 1 Lucky Barista To Costa Rica, But Not If They’re In A Union

Starbucks’ North America Barista Championship, a company-wide contest, has been criticized for not allowing unionized stores to participate. Union baristas argue that their exclusion is a punishment for organizing around 400 of the chain’s 9,000 corporate-owned U.S. stores since 2021. Starbucks has publicly committed to reaching contracts with the union, Workers United, but in recent weeks the union has filed 47 new charges alleging unfair labor practices, including one related to the barista championship.

According to internal documents viewed by HuffPost, Starbucks says union stores can’t participate in the competition because it’s a workplace benefit that must be bargained over if workers unionize. The company has made the same legal argument in withholding other perks from newly organized shops, including participation in Starbucks’ “black apron” program, which trains baristas to become elite “coffee masters.” A Starbucks spokesperson said the barista competition includes paid time and travel for participants, and therefore the company believes it can’t grant the benefit to union workers without bargaining.

Workers United has waived its right to bargain over such benefits and asked that they be extended to union members, arguing that Starbucks is breaking the law by not doing so. A judge at the National Labor Relations Board agreed with the union in a September ruling, finding that Starbucks was intentionally discriminating against union workers by holding back raises and benefits. In new filings at the labor board, the union also claims Starbucks recently gave unionized workers smaller raises than nonunion workers; withheld new benefits offered to other employees, like faster vacation accrual and scheduling improvements; and fired five union supporters since Dec. 8, the day the company told the union it wanted to forge a more productive relationship.

Lydia Fernandez, a union leader and recently fired barista from Philadelphia, said she doesn’t believe the company has changed course in recent weeks. She sees very much the same behavior. Judges at the National Labor Relations Board have issued dozens of decisions finding Starbucks violated workers’ rights during the union campaign. Starbucks says it fired Fernandez for repeated time and attendance issues. The union says the company began more strict enforcement because of her union activism. Workers United has filed an unfair labor practice charge over Fernandez’s termination, seeking to have her reinstated.

Officials at the National Labor Relations Board must investigate the union’s new allegations before determining whether they have merit. The company has held barista championships around the world for the past 10 years, and this is the first time the company is holding a joint competition for the U.S. and Canada. The winner this year heads to Hacienda Alsacia, the company’s Costa Rican farm.

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