Why Is Howard Schultz Taking This So Personally?

As a manager, Mr. Schultz asked workers to obsess over the customer experience. For years, to preserve the “romance and theater” for patrons, he resisted automating the laborious chore of brewing espresso.

In return, he would reward employees with above-market wages and benefits, offering full health care coverage to part-timers and valuable stock options. Mr. Schultz wrote that an employee making $20,000 per year in 1991, the year before Starbucks went public, would have been able to cash out 1991 options for more than $50,000 in 1996.

The grand bargain began to break down during the Great Recession. In late 2007, sales at Starbucks stores were failing more than 10 percent from the same day the year before. To shore up the company, Mr. Schultz would close hundreds of stores and lay off 7 percent of its workers.

Those who remained faced a more grueling workplace. Starbucks ramped up its efforts to save on labor costs, later adopting new scheduling software that could “better control staffing and expenses,” Mr. Schultz wrote.

But the approach left many workers with erratic hours, making it harder to earn steady incomes, find reliable child care or attend college classes. (Mr. Schultz later wrote that the company had “revamped the software and our policies to ensure more predictability, consistency, and flexibility.”)

Julie Langevin, a Starbucks shift manager who has worked on and off at the company since 2005, said the job also became more demanding as the company rolled out increasingly elaborate cold drinks in the 2010s, like its Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino.

“You’d see somebody struggling to keep up, with 30 drinks on the counter,” said Ms. Langevin, who has been active in the union campaign.