Starbucks North America head leaves amid union-building vote and allegations of retaliation

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

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

Starbucks Rossann Williams

New President of Starbucks Canada Rossann Williams at Britnell Books Starbucks on Yonge Street. She talks about the Java giant’s future growth strategy. (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 turned it down.

Meanwhile, Sara Trilling has been promoted to executive vice president and president of Starbucks North America. Trilling is a 20-year Starbucks veteran, most recently serving 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 eyeing union 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-owned US stores have since voted to unionize, 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 wrote to employees last year that Starbucks has never advocated unionization and prefers to speak directly with employees, but respects legal process and wants to work with those in Buffalo who voted for union representation .

Federal labor officials alleged in April that Starbucks retaliated against workers in Phoenix after learning of workers there attempting to organize.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.