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As CEO steps down, Starbucks employees strike

On Monday, as Howard Schultz stepped down as interim CEO of Starbucks, he sent a memo to leadership at Starbucks.

It reads, in part: “As I step away, I leave you all as the stewards, in service of all of our partners. They are the heart and soul of our company — the living embodiment of human connection.”

On Wednesday, “partners” — aka store baristas — at 100 Starbucks cafes went on strike.

"They're on strike because they allege Starbucks has been engaging in union-busting tactics," explains KUOW labor and economy reporter Monica Nickelsburg. "There's this really massive campaign to unionize Starbucks stores across the country. But it's slowed down a little bit. It's kind of losing momentum."

Starbucks Workers United alleges that slowdown is because Starbucks is firing workers who engage in union activities and closing stores that seek to unionize.

Starbucks categorically denies those allegations. Former CEO Howard Schultz, who left the company this week, says the stores were closed due to safety concerns.

Organizers have filed a number of complaints against Starbucks with the National Labor Relations Board, many of which have been substantiated. And Shultz is heading to Washington, D.C. next week to testify before the Senate about the company's alleged union-busting practices.

While Schultz stepped down from the company this week, that's not the reason employees are striking. Instead, employees were planning to protest ahead of Starbucks' annual shareholder meeting.

"Organizers of the union campaign are hoping that shareholders will push leadership at Starbucks to open an investigation into their tactics at stores into what they say is union-busting activity," Nickelsburg explains.

Nickelsburg says she is interested to see how the new CEO, Laxman Narasimhan, reacts to the strike.

"I'm really interested in what the new CEO is going to do about this union campaign, how he's going to respond to it," she said. "Some people have said, including Starbucks, that they're kind of trying to make an example out of the company, that this could be precedent setting."

As unionization efforts continue across the country, Nickelsburg says she'll be continuing to keep an eye on Starbucks.

"I think Starbucks could be a little case study here in what's to come for the labor movement," she says.

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