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The Wall Street Journal reports that the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), described as a “union with a long, feisty history and a counter-cultural aura,” is targeting Starbucks’ baristas for potential organization.

According to the WSJ, Starbucks has long avoided union problems by “offering what it considers generous pay and benefits. Part-time workers in its stores are eligible for medical, dental and vision benefits and Starbucks covers eligible same-sex domestic partners. The company's medical plan helps pay for treatments like acupuncture and store workers can get stock options, known as ‘bean stock,’ and tuition reimbursement.”

Still, the IWW is not impressed, and is pressing an aggressive organization approach. “At Starbucks, the IWW's demands include wage increases and providing workers with guaranteed hours and lower eligibility requirements and out-of-pocket expenses for health-care benefits,” the Journal reports. “The union's tactics have included publicly confronting Starbucks managers with lists of demands and disrupting store operations by getting supporters to pay for drinks with pennies.

“To make its case, the union pushes a comparison between the health care coverage of workers at Starbucks and Wal-Mart, arguing that about 42% of Starbucks employees get coverage through the company, less than the roughly 46% of Wal-Mart workers who receive employer sponsored coverage.”

Starbucks doesn’t dispute the 42 percent figure, but says that since a large number of its employees and young people who either are in school or still living at home, it isn’t a fair comparison.

While the IWW may be making some noise – enough so that its efforts garner attention from the Wall Street Journal - it also has to be noted that the union, which has roots in early 20th century socialism, is a tiny entity with just 2,500 members. But if it has its way, that number could be growing…and the coffee they’ll be serving at union meetings will be primo.
KC's View:
We have to admit to being conflicted on this one.

On the one hand, we’ve been consistently critical of Wal-Mart’s health care policies, so it is hard for us to ignore the health care percentages admitted to by Starbucks. It may be like comparing apples to oranges, but then again, it may not be; we’d love to see a comparison of how many people working for Starbucks are doing so to support themselves and/or a family, versus the number of people working for Wal-Mart in the same position. It’s just a guess, but we’d expect the number to be a lot lower at Starbucks. (That’s just based on the amount of time we spend in Starbucks, which is considerable.)

Ultimately, we suppose, all nonunion retailers – whether they be Wal-Mart or Starbucks or some other entity – have to have strong enough relationships with their employees/associates that these folks don’t want to become organized. They can’t depend on intimidation, which often is alleged in Wal-Mart’s case but is not mentioned in the Starbucks scenario.

We’d actually be surprised if the IWW gains much traction with this effort. By and large, when we go into virtually any Starbucks, people just seem so happy and pleasant and ready to please – an attitude we don’t often find at other retailers. The company has been effective at maintaining that kind of culture as it grows, which is extremely difficult to do.

And here’s how we really judge a place like Starbucks. It is the kind of place where we’d be thrilled if one of our kids worked there, because it’d be our expectation that they’d learn more about life and business than just how to make coffee. And if this Internet thing doesn’t work out…well, we’d be willing to learn how to make venti skim lattes in exchange for the kind of benefits they offer.