- Starbucks has hired Frank Britt, who previously served as CEO of workforce development firm Penn Foster, as chief strategy officer, a Starbucks spokesperson confirmed. Matthew Ryan previously served as CSO but has not worked at Starbucks since 2018.
- Britt will be responsible for developing long-term strategies focusing on employees and customers, and joined the company in April, according to a bio on Starbucks' website.
- The news of Britt's hire follows a dramatic week for Starbucks, which began with interim CEO Howard Schultz suspending stock buybacks and ended with Starbucks Workers United winning six elections in two days.
Britt's bio highlights his tenure at a workforce development firm, "helping provide educational access and training opportunities to front-line employees." That experience may prove useful at Starbucks, which is facing a nationwide union campaign reaching more than 200 stores. The coffee chain also posted a job listing on April 6 seeking a labor lawyer with experience handling unfair labor practice charges and strike contingency planning.
Starbucks is also contending with tension between its interim CEO and union supporters. Schultz attended a number of discussions with Starbucks employees over the last week, capped off by a meeting Friday where Schultz allegedly asked Madison Hall, a pro-union worker in Long Beach, California, "If you hate Starbucks so much, why don't you go somewhere else?"
On Monday, Schultz wrote a Starbucks blog post suggesting Starbucks Workers United union's goal is at odds with the company's values. In the post, Schultz writes that the company will become "the best version of Starbucks by co-creating our future directly as partners" and said employees "must not be distracted by the different vision being put forward" by pro-union workers.
"While not all the partners supporting unionization are colluding with outside union forces, the critical point is that I do not believe conflict, division and dissension ... benefits Starbucks or our partners," Schultz wrote.
The blog post includes a video of Schultz speaking with Starbucks employees at the listening session in Long Beach, California, but the clip does not include an exchange between Schultz and Hall. Hall has not responded to Restaurant Dive's requests for comment on this alleged exchange.
On Thursday and Friday, Starbucks Workers United won elections in six stores in New York, including every store in the city of Ithaca, in vote counts observed by Restaurant Dive. In a seventh vote count at a store in Overland Park, Kansas, the union led 6-1 in counted ballots, but 7 ballots were challenged. Workers United's Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board said those ballots were challenged by the company's lawyers, and said the union expected a victory once challenges were resolved.
In Overland Park, three pro-union workers were fired before the vote count, and union supporters launched a strike between April 7 and April 11 at the store. The pro-union workers allege they were retaliated against for organizing, but a Starbucks spokesperson said all three workers were terminated for disciplinary infractions not related to organizing.
A new strategy-focused executive could help Starbucks better navigate growing union pressure and ease shareholder fears. Last month, a contingent of 73 shareholders wrote a letter to Starbucks urging it to change its approach to the union's growth to protect Starbucks' reputation. The shareholders represent over $3.4 trillion in assets, and they are especially concerned with complaints lodged by the National Labor Relations Board against Starbucks' anti-union response.