Starbucks is allegedly threatening to revoke trans health care benefits if employees unionize

Truly a cruel move in the company’s union-busting efforts.

Michael Vestigo of Kansas City, Kansas, who claims he was fired by Starbucks, speaks while dressed a...
Labor Rights
Originally Published: 

When it comes to providing trans-inclusive health care for employees, Starbucks has been (surprisingly) ahead of the curve for several years. But now, some trans employees at the coffee chain claim the company is threatening to take away gender-affirming health care if they vote to unionize, per Bloomberg.

According to a new complaint filed with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board by the Starbucks Workers United union, managers at several Starbucks franchises around the country have told baristas that their health care benefits would be taken away if they vote pro-union. The revoked benefits would include gender-affirming surgeries, facial feminization, and breast reduction, among other procedures for trans employees, according to Bloomberg. Neha Cremin, a Starbucks employee in Oklahoma, told Bloomberg that her manager had specifically emphasized the potential loss of her trans health care during a conversation about unionizing, which Cremin felt was a “veiled threat.”

Starbucks has denied the claims, with spokesperson Reggie Borges telling Bloomberg that the company is not threatening a loss of benefits tied to joining a union. “We take a great deal of pride in offering industry-leading benefits,” he said.

The threats, if true, didn’t work, though: Today, Workers United tweeted that the aforementioned Oklahoma store “voted overwhelmingly to unionize.”

Compared to other companies, Starbucks’s health care coverage is actually pretty decent and includes things like paid time off and college tuition in some states. So, why are so many Starbucks employees across the country unionizing?

For the most part, they’re asking for better wages — because of the pandemic, employees are often asked to cover more shifts for sick co-workers and deal with customers who don’t want to wear masks. On top of that, inflation and the skyrocketing costs of everything means being alive in America has gotten wildly expensive; what constituted a living wage before the pandemic is definitely not a living wage now. On average, a Starbucks barista gets paid $16/hour in New York City, where the living wage is closer to $25/hour. So far, Workers United has successfully unionized 150 Starbucks locations since their inception in December of 2021, per Bloomberg, which shows just how desperate many workers are to improve their working conditions.

Blocking trans-inclusive health care coverage is always unacceptable, but what makes these alleged threats particularly cruel right now is that they’re also reportedly happening in states where anti-trans legislation already makes accessing gender-affirming surgeries extremely difficult. And for some trans people, gender-affirming surgeries are life-saving.

It sure seems like Starbucks is going to great effort to discourage more stores from unionizing, while also attempting to avoid a public image disaster — hence some managers allegedly using vague language that makes employees question if joining a union is worth it. All I have to say is that it’s still Pride month, so do better, Starbucks.