Starbucks Chile fined for anti-union practices

Hailed as “small victory” by union leader in wake of failed hunger strike.

« The ruling further stated that Starbucks Chile would have to pay a fine of around US$24,000, plus the costs of the trial. […]

The company is in a position of privilege and power that manifests itself with higher intensity and has been far more invasive than any communique made by the union. […]

The company’s alleged anti-union tendency which has been referred to in previously referenced documents and behavior constitute circumstantial evidence which presupposes that the company trains its managers to dampen union activity. […]

The company’s aversion to unions was referenced by Giordano during a conversation with The Santiago Times in late July, when he claimed that Starbucks had hired 200 more baristas to compensate for the 200 who had been striking. »


Eighteen days after 200 baristas from Starbucks locations across Chile went on strike, a Santiago labor court found the coffee giant guilty of anti-union practices during its ruling on Monday.

starbucksPhoto by Nick Humphries/Flickr

The ruling further stated that Starbucks Chile would have to pay a fine of around US$24,000, plus the costs of the trial. The penalty was handed down by Judge Paola Cecilia Díaz Urtubia at one of Santiago’s labor dispute courts.

“This is, in any case, a milestone which we hope will add up to other victories,” said Andres Giordano, head of the Starbucks Chile union, to Radio Universidad de Chile on Monday. “While it’s not a substantial improvement, in the sense that it does not represent a benefit, it sets the norm for behavior that the company needs to improve. In that sense, it leaves us in a good position to consolidate the movement.”

Union leaders representing the 200 baristas across the country had embarked on a hunger strike on June 28 as part of their protest. Among the strikers’ demands were fair salary adjustments, better enforcement of break hours and stipends for lunch and transportation.

The strike was eventually called off on Aug. 6, as announced on the union’s Twitter account, with none of the employees’ demands met.

Judge Diaz’s decision – posted on the union’s website – highlighted several instances in which management at Starbucks Chile disregarded their employees’ right to engage in collective negotiations.

“The company’s alleged anti-union tendency which has been referred to in previously referenced documents and behavior constitute circumstantial evidence which presupposes that the company trains its managers to dampen union activity,” reads an excerpt.

The same document denies claims made by the defendants that by filing the lawsuit the plaintiffs were exhibiting “hypersensitivity.”

“There is no comparison between statements made via email or blog by the plaintiffs and the intimidation tactics used by their employer,” reads the verdict. “The company is in a position of privilege and power that manifests itself with higher intensity and has been far more invasive than any communique made by the union.

Judge Diaz said she was troubled by the anti-union stance of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. In the ruling, Diaz references Schultz’ statement that “benevolent management should make unions superfluous” as indicative of meddlesome tactics used by a firm to sabotage negotiation efforts between unions and management.

The fact that the company has not denied such statements lend credence to the witness accounts that workers were approached by managers who sought to dissuade them from organizing.

A representative of Starbucks could not be reached by The Santiago Times for comment.

Currently there are 30 Starbucks locations in Chile. Originally a small company that focused on selling coffee beans and equipment, Starbucks was sold to Howard Schultz in 1987. Schultz would eventually turn the small firm into a chain of cafés located in over 55 countries. In 2010, the chain reported a net income of US$946 million.

The company’s aversion to unions was referenced by Giordano during a conversation with The Santiago Times in late July, when he claimed that Starbucks had hired 200 more baristas to compensate for the 200 who had been striking.

Starbucks also recently lost a lawsuit filed for intellectual property violations against the Chilean coffee chain Starlight Coffee in August this year. After its victory over the North American chain, Starlight was reported to be considering a countersuit.

By Ivan Ebergenyi (editor@santiagotimes.cl)
Copyright 2011 – The Santiago Times

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