- A report released last month by labor union UNITE HERE said workers at U.S. airport Starbucks locations operated by HMSHost face a racial pay gap, low pay and, in some cases, LGBTQ-status discrimination and harassment.
- According to the report, black baristas at 142 HMSHost-operated locations in 27 U.S. airports had a median pay that was $1.85 less than that of white baristas. The report also contains the results of a UNITE HERE survey of 2,067 unionized employees, which found that 32% of respondents were unable to pay rent in the past year, and that some had dealt with homelessness and inability to afford food. LGBTQ employees at some airports reported offensive and transphobic comments, misgendering and harassment on the basis of their gender expression, UNITE HERE said.
- In a statement on its website, HMSHost said it is currently in contract negotiations with UNITE HERE, denied that it discriminates on the basis of LGBTQ status, race or any reason, and said that the union's report is "based on the results of a survey of a limited number of represented HMSHost employees." Starbucks declined an HR Dive request for comment.
UNITE HERE has participated in several campaigns around workplace issues affecting service employees at U.S. airports. In 2015, the union promoted an awareness campaign around Au Bon Pain workers at Philadelphia International Airport during an ongoing labor dispute. A similar 2014 campaign talked about race-based disparities among service employees at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
The February report coincided with the filing of complaints with the City of Orlando by HMSHost-employed baristas who alleged discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression, according to UNITE HERE. In late January, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson told CNBC the company would no longer exclusively license Starbucks locations at U.S. airports to HMSHost, but that HMSHost would "continue to be a partner" of the coffee chain.
The news is notable due to Starbucks' previous claim in 2018 that it had closed all gender- and race-based pay gaps within its U.S. workforce. The company has made strides to improve equity, according to a 2019 report it commissioned written by law firm Covington & Burling and former attorney general Eric Holder, including emphasizing diversity and inclusion within its internal culture and working to develop relationships with community partners.
Starbucks launched these efforts following a racial profiling incident in 2018 that occurred at one of its Philadelphia stores. The incident led the company to close all of its U.S. stores for a day of racial bias training in response, but the UNITE HERE report released last month said that HMSHost-operated stores remained open on the day of the training
Starbucks also offers LGBTQ-friendly benefits, including coverage of healthcare procedures for transgender individuals, which it announced in 2018. Additionally, while Starbucks' corporate-owned locations have a policy of using documentation that reflects employees' preferred names, according to UNITE HERE, some workers surveyed by the union reported misgendering at work or refusal by management to print their preferred names on their work schedules.
"We have a culture that promotes associate voice, and provides multiple channels for employees to share concerns or feedback, including a platform, hosted by a third party, where they can call or submit information anonymously," HMSHost said in its statement. "We will swiftly investigate and resolve issues raised by our associates, and are committed to supporting them in the workplace."