By Hilary Russ
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Starbucks announced new student loan repayment tools and a savings account program for all U.S. employees who are not union members, the company said on Monday, amid a growing union drive and soaring demand for coffee.
The move comes ahead of the chain's annual Investor Day on Tuesday, when Wall Street expects it to lay out next year's growth prospects.
Boosting benefits to non-unionized workers while saying that unionized cafes must first bargain for those same benefits may be slowing the pace of union organizing. The company has lifted hourly U.S. pay for non-unionized cafe workers to an average of nearly $17 as of Aug. 1.
"We believe the recent wage hikes… are having an adverse effect on the labor unions, with the number of stores filing for a vote declining to the lowest level all year in August," BTIG analyst Peter Saleh wrote in an Aug. 31 note.
Last month the National Labor Relations Board accused Starbucks of illegally withholding raises from unionized workers. Workers at more than 230 of Starbucks' roughly 9,000 company-owned U.S. locations have voted to unionize, while at least 48 have voted against. As of October 2021, U.S. corporate-owned Starbucks stores employed about 235,000 people.
Despite having spent $1 billion on enhanced employee benefits in fiscal 2022, which ends in October, the company still has enough cash to pay for additional benefits and major store overhauls, analysts said.
"They have plenty of liquidity to do that without hampering the dividend," said Edward Jones analyst Brian Yarbrough.
Analysts expect Starbucks to increase capital investments in fiscal 2023 to add new ovens and espresso machines and to speed up maintenance and repairs, among other changes to improve operations that have become bogged down by a surge in mobile orders, cold beverages and customized drinks.
The chain currently has about $3 billion in cash on its balance sheet and is expected generate another $3.5 billion in free cash next year, Saleh said.
In December, the company forecast long-term earnings growth of 10% to 12% per share. Analysts believe the chain is still on track to meet that forecast.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Josie Kao)