business news in context, analysis with attitude

With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  The New York Times reports that "workers at a Trader Joe’s store in Brooklyn have voted against unionizing, handing a union its first loss at the company after two victories this year.

"The workers voted 94 to 66 against joining Trader Joe’s United, an independent union that represents employees at stores in Western Massachusetts and Minneapolis. Workers at a Trader Joe’s in Colorado filed for an election this summer but withdrew their petition shortly before a scheduled vote … The loss raises questions about whether a national wave of unionization may be slowing."

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that Starbucks' efforts to tamp down on the unionization movement within the company, which have been typified by higher pay and better benefits, seem to be working:

"Twelve Starbucks stores petitioned for representation by the Starbucks Workers United union in September, down from a peak of 71 in March, National Labor Relations Board records show. The eight petitions filed in August marked the smallest number since December, when the first Starbucks cafe voting to unionize led to a wave of other locations seeking elections."

The story points out that "pro-union workers have said Starbucks gives priority to profitability over its workers, and that organizing is the best way to ensure better compensation and treatment. Since the campaign’s initial unionization votes at Buffalo, N.Y.-area cafe in December, the NLRB has certified unions in 243 of Starbucks’s 9,000 U.S. stores and marked defeats for organized labor at 50 locations.

"Over the past six months, Starbucks has said it would invest hundreds of millions of dollars in employee wages and improving operations, aiming to address complaints about equipment problems, staffing levels and security concerns that have motivated unionizing employees. The company is also closing some U.S. stores where it said baristas have complained about unsafe working conditions. The closures include some stores that have also voted to unionize."

I would hope that Starbucks' leadership, even as it fights against unionization, would realize that the dissident employees are not disloyal.  In fact, they strike me largely as incredibly loyal - they signed on to work at one company, and found themselves working at a different one.  This in, fact, has been conceded by management, which has agreed that its stores largely were not built for the business the way it exists today.

This ought to be a lesson for every retailer - to not get so busy enjoying your own success and breathing your own exhaust that you lose touch with what is happening on the front lines.

BTW … It isn't really a surprise that we're seeing some slowdown in the unionization trend as the economy gets more tenuous.  That was inevitable.  But this is definitely not the time for management to exact retribution … it is, in fact, a great time for healing and the creation of caring cultures in which everyone feels invested in the business and, in fact, in each other's success.