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The Ratings Game: Starbucks’ anti-union fight has gotten uglier. Most of its customers don’t seem to care, survey finds

Coffee chain Starbucks Corp.
SBUX,
-0.70%

over the past year has racked up allegations of labor-law violations and accusations of retaliation against employees in its effort to squash a unionization drive. But at least one analyst survey finds that consumers are largely indifferent.

The survey of roughly 1,000 customers, conducted by equity research firm BTIG, found that 4% indicated that “they would never visit again if Starbucks and the unions failed to reach an agreement,” analyst Peter Saleh said in a research note on Thursday. A majority, 69%, said it would have “no impact on visit frequency.”

“Among the rest, 16% indicated they would visit less often, while 11% said they would be more frequent customers, essentially offsetting each other,” he continued.

The findings were largely in keeping with a survey the equity research firm released in April. Saleh has a buy rating on Starbucks shares, and on Thursday raised his price target to $120 from $110.

Other surveys, however, have shown support for unionizing at Starbucks and nationwide.

In February, a poll of roughly 2,500 people from Blue Rose Research, conducted on behalf of More Perfect Union, a website focused on workers issues, found that four in 10 respondents bought something at Starbucks over the past six months. Of those, 69% said they backed Starbucks’ employees efforts to organize. The survey found that around two-thirds overall believed Starbucks workers needed a union.

More broadly, Gallup, in August, said that 71% of Americans approve of labor unions. That’s the highest on record for the polling firm began tracking the issue since 1965.

Saleh, in the note on Thursday, said he expected negotiations between the Starbucks union and company representatives to continue for the rest of the year, “or until one side decides the cost of the ongoing campaign is greater than that of a contract agreement.”

Some Starbucks investors have called for closer scrutiny over how the company is handling the unionization effort at its stores. At the World Economic Forum this week in Davos, Switzerland, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said that amid rising inequality, company executives needed to take a more active role in talks with labor unions.

Despite higher-profile efforts to unionize at Starbucks, Amazon.com Inc.
AMZN,
-1.86%

and other retailers, the percentage of U.S. workers who were union members continued to fall in 2022, to 10.1%, the lowest on record. However, the agency said the number of people in unions had crept higher.

“The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.3 million in 2022, increased by 273,000, or 1.9 percent, from 2021. However, the total number of wage and salary workers grew by 5.3 million (mostly among nonunion workers), or 3.9 percent,” the agency said in the report.

“This disproportionately large increase in the number of total wage and salary employment compared with the increase in the number of union members led to a decrease in the union membership rate,” the report continued.

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