Starbucks North America head leaves amid unionization votes, allegations of retaliation

The head of Starbucks’ North America is reportedly leaving the coffee chain after nearly two decades with the company.

Rossann Williams, who started with Starbucks as a regional vice president in 2004, will leave the company later this month.

New President of Starbucks Canada Rossann Williams taken in Britnell Books Starbucks on Yonge St. She discusses the java giants growth strategy going forward. (Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Chief Operating Officer John Culver told employees in a Friday letter, “the decision was not taken lightly.” He said Williams was offered another job at the company, but she declined.

Meanwhile, Sara Trilling was promoted to executive vice president and president of Starbucks North America. Trilling is a 20-year veteran of Starbucks and most recently served as senior vice president and president of Starbucks Asia Pacific in Hong Kong.

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Williams was a prominent figure in the company’s push against worker unionization. Her departure comes amid a wave of other prominent companies seeing unionization efforts among their hourly workers.

In December, a Starbucks store in Buffalo became the first to unionize at one of the coffee retailer’s company-owned US stores. At least 150 of Starbucks’ 9,000 company-run US stores have voted to unionize since then, according to the National Labor Relations Board. At least 10 stores have rejected the union.

Starbucks Logo

The mermaid logo on a sign outside the Starbucks coffee shop, Monday, March 14, 2022, in Londonderry, NH (AP Photo/Charles Krupa/AP Newsroom)

Williams employees told in a letter last year that Starbucks never favored unionization and prefers to speak directly to employees but respects the legal process and wants to work with those in Buffalo who voted in favor of union representation.

Federal labor officials alleged in April that Starbucks had retaliated against workers in Phoenix after it learned of employees there seeking to unionize.

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“Among other things, Starbucks disciplined, suspended, and discharged one employee, constructively discharged another, and placed a third on an unpaid leave of absence after revoking recently granted accommodations,” the filing said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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