The Guardian • Issue #2059

Starbucks ditches Pride for profit

Photo: RDNE Stock project – (CC0)

WASHINGTON: Somebody tell Starbucks’s bosses that June is Pride Month. They’ve gone in the other direction.

An internal memo, leaked to Starbucks Workers United (SWU) – the Service Employees-backed group that’s aiding the grassroots union organising drive at the coffee giant – orders store managers to take down and remove all pro-LGBTQ+ material from their stores.

This is, of course, from a corporation that attempts to cultivate an image of inclusiveness. Yet its vicious campaign to prevent unionisation of its stores, filled with so much labor-law breaking that it’s resulted in multiple federal court orders, belies that.

So does its anti-gay edict. Workers in the Twin Cities first reported the memo, the same day, 14th June 14, that Starbucks honchos publicly denied the firm is anti-LGBTQ.

“The manager of my store received an e-mail from the district manager last night regarding decorations,” a Minnesota Starbucks worker posted. “The memo instructed my manager – and perhaps other managers – not to put up decorations for Pride or any other holiday” [writer’s emphasis].

“Rather than demonstrating inclusivity by erecting decorations for a multiplicity of holidays,” the writer said later, “including Pride, our store will disavow decorations entirely.”

In the last 30 years, LGBTQ +people have increasingly become accepted in wider US society, especially when it comes to matters of non-discrimination on the job, marriage equality, and in popular culture. A combination of chasing after the “pink dollar” and the advancement of LGBTQ people within corporate management structures have also resulted in many companies embracing Pride marketing every June.

But there’s been a corresponding right-wing backlash, some of it violent, and especially aimed at transgender people as of late.

Starbucks appears to be catering to the right-wingers, in the name of greater profits, the Twin Cities Starbucks worker, commenting on the internal memo, said.

“Given the timing of her directive, I assume our district manager has yielded to pressure from alt-right homophobes and transphobes.”

Starbucks Workers United had its own take on the company’s attitude, in a press release posted as a series of tweets.

“For the last two weeks, Starbucks workers have taken to social media to report the company is no longer allowing Pride decorations in-store. This seems to be the first year the publicly “pro-LGBTQ+” company has taken this kind of stance,” it began.

“Taking a cue from Target, who bowed to anti-LGBTQ+ pressure and removed Pride merchandise, corporate and district management are taking down  Pride decorations that have become an annual tradition in stores.

“In union stores, where Starbucks claims they are unable to make ‘unilateral changes’ without bargaining, the company took down Pride decorations and flags anyway – ignoring their own anti-union talking point.”

But the firm’s discrimination against LGBTQ+ people apparently extends beyond the absent visuals in its stores – and it started long before Pride Month. SWU, quoting workers, reported “last October, some workers reported their transgender health benefit plan changed, causing them to pay out of pocket fees and lose access to certain providers.”

“If Starbucks was a true ally, they would stand up for us, especially during a time when LGBTQ+ people are under attack. A company that cares wouldn’t turn their back on the LGBTQ+ community to protect their already astronomically high profits,” the tweets said.

SWU concluded by declaring unionisation and writing anti-discrimination policy into a contract is the way to end the company’s prejudice.

“True allyship with the LGBTQ+ community is negotiating a union contract that legally locks in our benefits, our freedom of expression, and ways to hold management accountable,” the SWU release concludes.

That may take a while. Starbucks has shown few signs of bargaining in good faith, despite National Labor Relations Board orders that it do so.

Except in scattered instances with a few local stores – the latest in Brooklyn – Starbucks, led by its former CEO Howard Schultz and the union-busters his regime hired, has refused. The grassroots organising drive has won union recognition votes at more than 320 Starbucks stores, covering over 8000 workers, around the US.

But when public pressure forced Starbucks bosses to sit down with workers’ reps, the union-busters called for their caucus after five minutes, before SWU had a chance to present and explain its contract proposals, which it posted publicly on its website.

Instead, the bosses walked out and never came back. They repeated that performance in the very next scheduled session, giving the excuse that workers from around the country should not be allowed to Zoom into the telecast.

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