Harvard students, union members, and Starbucks employees from around the country are planning to protest a lecture by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at Harvard Business School on Friday.
Schultz will be speaking to several hundred Business School students on his experiences running a successful business while also be promoting his new book, “Onward.”
Liberté Locke, an organizer of the event, said Starbucks employees are angered by what they deem to be hypocrisy in Schultz’s book, in which he expresses his commitment to his “partners”—as the company calls its workers. Employees of the company, especially union members, feel that Starbucks is one of the least labor friendly companies in America, Locke said. Starbucks has been found guilty by the National Labor Relations Board of violating labor rights, including charges of union busting and wrongful termination.
“For Howie [Schultz] to sit around and claim how much he loves us, it’s just disgusting,” said Locke, a Starbucks barista and Starbucks Workers Union organizer from New York. “Starbucks is one of the biggest union busting corporations in the United States.”
Harvard union representatives said they planned to support Starbucks workers in the protest.
Geoffrey “Geoff” Carens, an assistant librarian and member of the Harvard Union of Technical and Clerical Workers, emphasized what he called the “phoniness” of Schultz’s message.
“Howard Schultz likes to present Starbucks as a socially responsible corporation,” Carens said. “In reality, conditions are really bad and getting worse.”
While Starbucks has garnered criticism for the way it has treated union leaders and organizers, it has presented itself as a progressive member of the Fortune 500, providing health care benefits and stock options to some employees.
Students who plan to attend the event said that they feel it is important to show solidarity with wronged workers in standing up for their rights.
“Everyone deserves a voice on the job,” said Student Labor Action Movement member William P. Whitham ’14. Organizers of the event said that they are eager to send a message both to Schultz and to the Business School students.
“We want him to know that no matter where he goes, he will be held accountable,” said Locke. As for the Business School students, Locke wanted them to know “that union busting is absolutely unacceptable and unethical.”
Locke emphasized that the point of the protest is not to scare students away, but rather to educate them. “We want to prevent [future] employers from becoming like Starbucks,” she said.
—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.