Company threatens unionization could undermine gender-affirming healthcare

A protester holds up a sign near the Country Club Plaza Starbucks store where dozens of Starbucks employees and union supporters protested the company’s alleged union-busting tactics Thursday, March 3, 2022.

Jill Toyoshiba | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

Starbucks tells its baristas that unionization could jeopardize the gender-affirming healthcare coverage for transgender employees that the company offers, according to a complaint filed with the Federal Labor Commission.

The complaint comes after more than 100 of the coffee chain’s 9,000 U.S. cafes voted to unionize under Workers United over the past seven months. Under interim CEO Howard Schultz, Starbucks has tried to counter union pressure by pointing out potential collective bargaining shortcomings, such as federal labor laws that prohibit the company from unilaterally raising coffee shop wages. unionized without contract negotiations.

The union’s latest complaint against Starbucks, first reported by Bloomberg, was filed on Monday. A transgender employee at an Oklahoma City location told the publication she believed her manager used a “veiled threat” in a conversation. The manager allegedly told the employee that her benefits could get better, stay the same or get worse if the store unionized and specifically referenced its use of trans benefits.

Starbucks spokesman Reggie Borges told CNBC the claim was false.

The company’s health insurance has covered sex reassignment surgery since 2012 and a wider range of gender-affirming procedures, such as hair transplants or breast reduction, since 2018. Last month, the channel de café announced that it would cover travel costs for gender-affirming surgeries as state lawmakers target transgender rights.

By mid-March, more than 150 anti-trans bills had been introduced in state legislatures aimed at limiting access to health care, sports, restrooms and education, according to NBC News. Oklahoma, for example, passed three anti-trans laws this year.

Starbucks often touts its long history of supporting LGBTQ+ workers and the wider community, especially during Pride Month in June. The company notes its decades-old policies, including healthcare coverage for same-sex domestic partners and employees with terminal illnesses, which was inspired by a Starbucks employee who died of complications from AIDS.