The bitter truth behind Starbucks in Chile

There is a very bitter taste to the coffee served at Starbucks in Chile, where the company is engaged in an unrelenting union-busting campaign.

Membership of the Starbucks Workers’ Union has dwindled as a result, and the dismissal of anyone daring to speak out is routine practice. Of the 270 workers who had joined the union, only 57 now remain.

Equal Times spoke to the union’s spokesperson, Andrés Giordano, one of the founding members of the trade union formed in 2009 to improve working conditions at the company.

"The problem is the company’s policy on unions, which it deems unnecessary, as stated by the company’s CEO himself, Howard Schultz," said Giordano.

Relations between the company and the union have become increasingly tense.

"This means that every time we come forward with our demands, Starbucks tries to crush us and deny our credibility as the workers’ legitimate representative. We have been the victims of repeated anti-union practices, for which Starbucks has been ordered to pay fines in line with court rulings F-32-2011, F39-20011, F12-2012 of the Second Labour Court and F79-2001 of the First Labour Court," he explains.

International solidarity with the Starbucks’ workers was quick to emerge.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is supporting the trade unionists in Chile, and a letter protesting against Starbucks’ conduct can be sent to Howard Schultz (Starbucks CEO), Clifford Burrows (President, Starbucks United States), Francesca Faraggi (Human Resources Director, Starbucks Chile) and Federico Tejado (Director of Alsea, the largest restaurant operator in Latin America) from .

In the meantime, unionised Starbucks workers in Chile have voted in favour of strike action, which will be carried out in the coming weeks if the company fails to meet their legitimate demands.

The union is calling for: annual wage adjustments in line with the consumer price index to balance the rate of pay and the cost of living; a meal allowance, which is currently only given to managerial staff; and an end to the persecution of trade union leaders and respect for their rights in terms of the time and resources needed to exercise their duties.

"Starbucks is repeatedly violating the right to collective bargaining and we are looking into the possibility of filing a complaint to ensure the company respects the international instruments Chile has signed, and negotiates in good faith, in compliance with the Constitution of Chile, the ILO provisions on trade union rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises," Giordano told Equal Times.


Anti-union practices at Starbucks

The Second Labour Court ruling on case numbers S-32-2011, S-39-2011 and S-12-2012 and the First Labour Court ruling on case number S-79-2011 ordered sanctions against Starbucks for the following anti-union practices:

1) Refusing to negotiate within the time limit established by law and actions revealing evident bad faith during the collective bargaining process (such as excessive hiring in order to illegally replace unionised workers), obstructing the normal course of the negotiations, in addition to exerting pressure on persons to leave the trade union and thus undermine the bargaining process. (150 UTM*)

2) Having district managers Francisco Saieh, Beatriz Vilches, Mauricio Vilches and Claudia Aburto commit abuses of power to hamper or obstruct the collective bargaining process. (100 UTM)

3) Having committed discriminatory acts by denying unionised workers access to promotion. (100 UTM)

4) Having infringed the fundamental rights of the workers belonging to the trade union organisation bringing the accusations, by unduly discriminating against workers when hiring staff and renewing contracts, with a view to pressing members to leave the union. (150 UTM)

5) Exercising acts of intimidation or exerting pressure on workers during the collective bargaining process, such as threats of dismissal and the withdrawal of benefits, etc. (100 UTM)

6) Providing the workers with false information to avoid the strike. (150 UTM)

7) Changing working hours, shifts and legal holidays to affect the quorum needed to make the strike effective. (150 UTM)

8) Discrediting and insulting strike leaders and members. (150 UTM)

9) Offering advice and support to a group of workers with a view to forming another negotiating group in tune with the company’s interests. (150 UTM)

10) Dismissing trade union representative Antonio Páez, who would subsequently have to be reinstated and compensated in line with a court ruling. (150 UTM)

*UTM (one Monthly Tax Unit = 80 US dollars)