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Starbucks managers allegedly threaten trans healthcare benefits to discourage unionizing

A man at the counter at Starbucks
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Starbucks employees say that store managers have been issuing threats that the company’s trans-inclusive healthcare benefits could be in jeopardy if they choose to unionize. Transgender baristas in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Kansas allege that they were taken aside for one-on-one conversations in which management suggested that union-negotiated benefits might not include gender-affirming healthcare.

During another meeting last month at an Oklahoma store, a Starbucks district manager allegedly told employees that if they unionize, “trans partners’ benefits are up for negotiation.” Niko Melton, an employee who attended the meeting, characterized the assertion as “fearmongering.”

Related: Starbucks to pay travel costs for trans employees getting gender-affirming care

Despite the “veiled threats,” pro-union employees say that one of the goals of organizing is to protect and expand access to gender-affirming healthcare benefits, which are now only available to employees who work an average of at least 20 hours per week.

“I think the company realizes that we as trans partners feel particularly vulnerable at this time,” Oklahoma Starbucks employee Neha Cremin tells Bloomberg. “I think that in some cases they are willing to take advantage of that.”

On Monday, the Workers United union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing Starbucks of “threatening employees with loss of benefits” including “loss of gender-affirming health care for transgender employees” at the Oklahoma store.

Earlier this week, company spokesperson Reggie Borges said denied the allegations. “We are not threatening our partners with the loss of benefits if they join a union. We take a great deal of pride in offering industry-leading benefits and have done so for more than 50 years.”

As Bloomberg notes, Starbucks has offered coverage for transition-related surgeries for a decade, and has expanded its benefits to include procedures that were previously rejected as “cosmetic.”

In May, Starbucks expanded its trans-inclusive benefits further, announcing plans to cover travel costs for employees who must travel more than 100 miles to access gender-affirming care or abortions. The decision came in the wake of multiple state-led attempts to criminalize gender-affirming care as well as the imminent threat to Roe v. Wade indicated in the recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion.

The threats to trans-inclusive benefits come as Workers United has been gaining momentum in its efforts to unionize Starbucks stores across the U.S. The union has prevailed in votes at over 100 of the coffee chain’s 9,000 U.S. locations since securing an initial landmark victory in New York last December.

In an April 4 speech, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz warned of “companies throughout the country being assaulted, in many ways, by the threat of unionization.”

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