Starbucks CEO focuses on new role, avoids labor issues in investor call
Published in Business News
Starbucks new CEO Laxman Narasimhan led his first shareholder annual meeting Thursday, facing investors' questions just days after he took over the role from longtime leader Howard Schultz.
Shareholders presented five proposals, including a more robust CEO succession plan and an assessment on the company's alleged anti-union practices. Seattle-based Starbucks recommended voting against all shareholder-introduced proposals. The votes will be announced within four days through a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In the meeting, Narasimhan laid out his monthslong process to acclimate to the coffee giant since he was announced CEO in September.
During the transition, Narasimhan met with teams across the world. He said at this point he understands the company well, but still has to earn his "green apron" every day.
Narasimhan also took the time to become a certified barista. He said he plans to work a half-day shift once a month in a Starbucks store.
Aside from the transition, Narasimhan steered away from topics about growing labor tensions between the coffee giant and union workers.
In response to a question about whether Starbucks would commit to a labor neutrality agreement with Workers United, the company's chief communications officer and executive vice president AJ Jones II stepped in to say that the company wouldn't do so. A labor neutrality agreement is a contract with many provisions under which the employer agrees to support a union's attempt to organize.
The agreement includes provisions such as a "card check" agreement, which means that instead of a secret ballot election, the employer recognizes the union automatically if the number of cards reaches a specific threshold.
"We believe that we must affirm our partners' ability to vote in an election and have access they need to make an informed decision," Jones said. Starbucks refers to workers as partners. Jones, previously a policy director for U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., is part of a three-person group in charge of labor decisions at Starbucks.
With the "card check" process, Jones said, "we would be suppressing the ability for those who didn't vote, or making a determination that may not be in line with their experience, their expectation or their choices."
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