Starbucks CEO Announces NFTs to Workers Amid Union Drive

Schultz promised Starbucks would introduce NFTs this year—an hour before his company fired a union organizer at a Phoenix store.
Starbucks CEO Announces NFTs to Workers Amid Union Drive
Stephen Brashear / Stringer
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

In a town hall meeting on Monday aimed at Starbucks workers amid a massive union drive, failed presidential candidate and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz revealed a development that he hoped would excite workers: crypto.

In a clip from a Partner Open Forum held on Monday and shared on Twitter by Jordan Zakarin, a reporter and producer for progressive news outlet A More Perfect Union, Schultz awkwardly asked multiple times if anyone in the audience was a "digital native," and then went back on script and asked if anyone had “followed what has been happening with NFTs" or “participated in investing in NFTs.” The audience laughed and only one brave soul chimed in to say they had invested, but still Schultz was undeterred.


"If you look at the companies, the brands, the celebrities, the influencers, that are trying to create a digital NFT platform and business, I can't find one of them that has the treasure trove of assets that Starbucks has from collectibles to the entire heritage of the company,” Schultz told the room. So, here's the secret: sometime before the end of this calendar year, we are going to be in the NFT business."

In a news release recapping Schultz's statements, Starbucks reiterated that NFTs were on the company's roadmap but didn't provide more detail. A Starbucks spokesperson pointed Motherboard to that news release when asked for more detail about the plan.

Schultz's comments on NFTs come in the context of a speech that also took aim at unionization efforts at companies in the U.S. like Starbucks and framed them as an "assault." 

"Here's where it gets a little sensitive because I've been coached a little bit," Schultz told the room in a clip shared by A More Perfect Union. "But I do want to talk about something pretty serious. We can't ignore what is happening in the country as it relates to companies throughout the country being assaulted in many ways by the threat of unionization."


Also on Monday, Starbucks allegedly retaliated against Laila Dalton—a 19-year-old barista in Phoenix—for her role in the union drive by firing her, progressive news outlet More Perfect Union reported. More Perfect Union has also previously shared videos of Dalton’s managers harassing her for handing out union cards to employees. In March, the NLRB issued a formal complaint against Starbucks for its treatment of Dalton.

Because of regular harassment from managers, Dalton began recording herself whenever they were present—Starbucks claims this is why they fired her on Monday, telling Motherboard that she recorded conversations she was not party to and as a result was violating Arizona’s one party consent law which only protects recordings of conversations so long as you are party to the conversation or have permission of someone party to it.

“A partner’s interest in a union does not exempt them from the standards we have always held,” a Starbucks spokesperson told Motherboard. “We will continue enforcing our policies consistently for all partners.”

The “assault” that Schultz refers to in his town hall encompasses the more than 100 Starbucks stores across 27 states that have filed petitions for union elections since August. In response, the company launched a massive union-busting campaign that quickly backfired. While Schultz took over as chief executive in mid-March after a five-year hiatus, he had been part of Starbucks’ failed PR offensive for months already; in November, Schultz flew out to Buffalo, NY before the first union election to draw parallels between working at Starbucks and Jews trapped in railcars headed for Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. 

In April, More Perfect Union published an investigation where they found that "more than half of the NLRB filings on Starbucks' illegal activities have come in the last month alone." Those activities include surveilling, questioning, threatening to fire or retaliate against, and outright firing unionizing workers.