Starbucks will no longer require its US employees to be vaccinated or submit weekly tests for COVID-19 after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test rule for large corporations.
John Culver, the president of North America and chief operating officer for Starbucks, announced the decision in a memo sent to staff Tuesday.
“I want to emphasize that we continue to believe strongly in the spirit and intent of the mandate,” Culver wrote in the memo. He added that "the health, safety and wellbeing of every partner remains our top priority."
Last week, the Supreme Court voted 6–3 to pause the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's emergency temporary standard that instructed businesses with 100 or more workers to require them to be vaccinated or submit weekly COVID test results. However, the ruling does not prevent businesses from enforcing their own vaccine requirements.
According to Culver's memo, 90% of Starbucks employees have disclosed their vaccine status, and the "vast majority" are fully vaccinated. A Starbucks spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that they did not have an exact number of fully vaccinated employees.
In his memo, Culver wrote that Starbucks "strongly" encourages its employees to get vaccinated and boosted.
"We will continue to follow the facts and science as we make our decisions and ensure partners understand their options," he added.
The decision comes as Starbucks deals with a unionization effort among its ranks. In December, one store in Buffalo, New York, successfully unionized, and another in Cheektowaga unionized earlier this month. On Jan. 5, the Buffalo Starbucks workers walked out to protest workplace safety measures as COVID cases surged.
"Starbucks reversed their vaccine mandate without discussing the issue, or negotiating about it, with the unionized partners at the Elmwood and Genesee stores," a spokesperson for Starbucks Workers United said in a statement. "This comes after partners at Elmwood raised COVID safety concerns that the company rebuffed. Once again, this shows why Starbucks partners need a union to have a voice in these critical matters."
In March 2020, BuzzFeed News reported that Starbucks employees felt unsafe working through the beginning of the pandemic, describing "chaos, fear, and confusion" at stores around the country. In Culver's memo to staff on Tuesday, he wrote that Starbucks will "prioritize safety at work by continuing to emphasize our health and safety protocols and modifying store operations when and where needed" and "provide partners access to meaningful benefits like self-isolation pay, vaccine pay, booster pay and side effect pay."