Companies offer employees abortion support, Starbucks offers new benefits to non-union workers, and more

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Hi there, comms connoisseurs.

Let’s explore some notable stories from May 3-6, 2022 — and pull out a few timely, tactical takeaways along the way:

1. Internal comms pros grapple with the end of Roe

This week, Politico reported that it obtained a leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade. Should the decision be made official later this year, state legislatures will be able to decide for themselves whether abortion will be legal in their state.

Ragan’s Emma Atkinson reports:

Internal communicators that decide to engage with this issue will consider how their messaging about employee assistance around abortion and related reproductive health needs can also be used as external comms for their organizations. Some companies have already taken an explicit stance in favor of abortion rights, while others are more focused on fulfilling the health benefits they have promised to their employees.

(Maven founder and CEO Kate) Ryder wrote that women’s health and reproductive care — including access to safe abortion — is central to her company’s mission.

“Maven offers a safe, affirming place for people to get guidance on their care needs, free of judgment, negativity, or bias of any kind,” she says.

PR firm Bospar also condemned the potential revocation of federal abortion rights. In a press release, Bospar principal and co-founder Curtis Sparrer shared a personal message about his viewpoint on Roe v. Wade.
Bospar is also covering its employees’ relocation expenses “for staff seeking reproductive freedom” following abortion-limiting legal action in Texas.

These messages demonstrate how, in times of heated national debate, the companies that take a stand on an issue quickly can become thought leaders in their industry or community. Ryder’s and Sparrer’s messages to their workforces are communicated clearly, referencing scientific sources (or the lack thereof in SCOTUS’ decision) that add legitimacy to each company’s position.

By sharing her position on LinkedIn, Ryder’s post also doubles as employer branding messaging that explicitly ties company values to company benefits during a time when a majority of Americans say they want brands to take some stance on abortion rights.

2. What’s sapping comms’ productivity, according to Ragan survey

In Ragan’s 2022 Salary & Workplace Culture Survey, respondents from organizations large and small told us that onerous workloads and pointless meetings are holding them back from achieving their full potential at work.

Ragan reports:

The Ragan survey shows that heavy workloads are the greatest productivity drain (61%), followed closely by unnecessary (59%) and inefficient meetings (56%). These stats emphasize how endless meetings only pile onto the high number of day-to-day responsibilities for communicators, delaying their completion of major projects in a timely manner.

These drains are exacerbated by “Other internal departments not respecting our time, dumping things on us last minute, also senior leadership not making decisions fast or early enough, and then our team having to scramble,” wrote one communicator.

Click here for your free download of the full findings from Ragan’s Salary & Workplace Culture Survey: 2022 Edition.

3. Starbucks CEO announces new benefits won’t go to unionizing workers

Interim Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced a slew of new employee benefits, including more effective training, a new employee app, increased pay and sick leave accrual, financial stability tools and more.

Buried at the bottom of this announcement on its brand news site is a caveat:

New pay and benefits changes will apply to stores where Starbucks has the right to unilaterally make these changes. Where Starbucks lacks the right to unilaterally make these changes (for example, stores where there is a union or union organizing) Starbucks will provide wage increases that were announced in October 2021 and will otherwise comply with all applicable legal requirements.

NPR reports:

“We do not have the same freedom to make these improvements at locations that have a union or where union organizing is underway,” Schultz said on a conference call with shareholders on Tuesday.

Schultz hinted that Starbucks might move to exclude unionized stores from new benefits in comments to store managers over a video call in mid-April. At the time, he said he had just learned that Starbucks is not permitted by law to offer new benefits to a store that voted for a union while they are in the collective bargaining process.

Workers United called Schultz’s assertion “dead wrong” and filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

“Under Section 8(a)(5) [of the Fair Labor Standards Act], employers simply cannot implement new benefits during contract negotiations unilaterally,” wrote Gabe Frumkin, counsel for Workers United. “Instead, they must bargain with the union if they wish to implement new benefits programs.”

In the filing, Frumkin charges that Schultz misrepresented the law by giving the misimpression that Starbucks could not even offer such benefits to the workers or their union representative. Schultz’s comments had an immediate and profound chilling effect on organizing campaigns nationwide, Frumkin wrote.

This is only the latest chapter in Schultz’s efforts to address the increasing amount of unionizing Starbucks stores. Last month, Schultz’s messaging around unions during a town hall prompted many employees to talk to the press.

There now seems to be a consistency between what Schultz is telling shareholders and what his brand stories say, which does demonstrate some consistency.

Whether or not Schultz is right that he is legally prohibited from offering benefits to unionizing stores during the collective bargaining process, the statement challenges the stated intent of this benefits campaign to “uplift Starbucks partners (employees).” When a company calls all employees partners, the wording suggests a collaboration and an exchange — a concept directly at odds with the approach to union negotiations that Schultz openly flaunts.

If Schultz truly believes he is legally prohibited, it can also be asked why he has not offered union employees those benefits later down the road once negotiations are reached.   Doing so would be an act of goodwill that could have gone a long way.

Starbucks’ campaign attempts to rebound from a PR nightmare by touting a new comprehensive benefits program. However, the execution of the campaign — including the decision to time the announcement amid ongoing contract negotiations and the union exclusion— ultimately amount to a missed opportunity that gave media outlets and pundits an easy opportunity to make Starbucks’ anti-union stance the headline once again.

4. The number of U.S. job openings hits a record high

New data released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 4.5 million people quit their jobs this past March, most notably in the professional and business services sector. The number of available jobs also rose to 11.5 million, a record high since the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey began in December 2000. This means that there were 1.9 job openings for every unemployed person in March.

Economists framed the rapid fluctuation in quits and hires as a good thing for job seekers:

This trend highlights how much talent is still out there, while economist hot takes illustrate that prospective employees greatly value remote work options as a tangible benefit. Comms can work with HR and people teams to craft messaging that frames remote work alongside other benefits while communicating expectations for remote work upfront and contextualizing its importance as part of your larger corporate culture.

5. How about some good news?

This week, let’s draw inspiration from:

Take good care of yourselves, comms champions, and keep up the good work.

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