New York (CNN Business)Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told a story about the Holocaust to promote the company’s benefits to a group of employees in a meeting this past weekend.
Schultz, who is Jewish, said a rabbi in Israel told him about the experiences of prisoners at concentration camps in Poland: They were only given a few blankets and had to share.
“Not everyone, but most people shared their blanket with five other people,” said Schultz. “So much of that story is threaded into what we’ve tried to do at Starbucks — is share our blanket.”
Schultz shared the story with employees in the Buffalo area Saturday. He said it illustrates Starbucks’ commitment to morality, honor and humanity. He has told the story before, including during a 2016 shareholders meeting. His comments on Saturday were posted on a video on Starbucks’ YouTube page.
Reactions to his analogy have been wide-ranging. Holocaust prisoners’ selflessness while facing death isn’t a direct parallel to a Fortune 500 company providing benefits to its employees.
“Felt like it wasn’t a very appropriate analogy,” a Starbucks employee in attendance told the New York Times. The Forward, a Jewish publication, called the remarks “mystifying.”
Starbucks didn’t immediately return request for comment.
Schultz on Saturday met with a group of employees from the Buffalo-area. The company closed some area stores so Schultz could speak to baristas who are voting on an unionization effort. A worker involved in the effort previously told CNN Business that they’re doing this because it’s the only way to have their voices heard about the way their stores are run.
Starbucks (SBUX) is fighting the campaign, arguing it is listening to employees and working to make employees’ work experience better, with a focus on hiring, training and closing other operational gaps. The pro-union employees say Starbucks is flooding the Buffalo market with top executives who are holding meetings with staff, including Schultz.
In his talk with employees, Schultz detailed the many benefits Starbucks offers that are not tendered by others in the industry, including health care coverage for part-time workers and college tuition reimbursement. The company has issued two wage increases in the last 18 months, and its average wage is more than than $12 an hour and more than half of its US employees get more than $15 an hour. It also says it has the best retention rate in the industry.
The National Labor Relations Board is sending workers ballots beginning Wednesday.
— CNN Business’ Chris Isidore contributed to this report.
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