My Opposition to a Unionized Starbucks

 


I recognize that unions are critical to our overall economy and the financial well-being of many Americans. Tens of millions of families have lived better lives because unions have lifted their wages and benefits and have in turn done so for families who were not union members. I have personally benefited from union membership throughout my life. Disappointingly, Starbucks Workers United has proffered little, if any, useful benefits for Starbucks employees. Their "economic proposals" make it difficult to take the organization seriously. The demands of SBWU may very well turn out to be detrimental to the interests of Starbucks partners if any of them are to become reality. Starbucks provides above and beyond for its employees and rather than be vilified for that they should be held up as the example every other company in the industry should live up to. If I thought SBWU could improve what Starbucks currently provides and that unionization could solve the issues the organizers raise, I would get behind this effort. Given everything the union has demonstrated thus far, I cannot.  

There is a long-standing high rate of satisfaction among Starbucks employees. This is especially true among Starbucks employees with health benefits who poll a satisfaction rate of over 80%. Starbucks provides excellent insurance with a larger than industry average percentage of those premiums subsidized by the company. Our health plans provide comprehensive benefits and care for our transgender partners that are difficult to find in any industry, especially within our our own. Considering the low-cost 401k, stock purchase plan and stock grants, fully paid college tuition, and most recently the addition of paid parental leave, there is no other company in our business offering what Starbucks does. 

While the union promotes with certainty that they can negotiate for even more pay and benefits, there can be no certainty about that. In fact, I am concerned that by pushing Starbucks labor costs too high, the quality of these benefits may decline and their cost to the partners may rise. The company may be forced into a position where, in the face of higher costs, they choose to open fewer stores or close existing stores thereby making these exceptional benefits available to fewer partners. Starbucks has provided health benefits to their full and part time partners since 1988. They have only added quality benefits to that portfolio. It is a fundamental part of the company's mission. They won't take them away, but there could be changes that effect the quality of care for our partners.

The recent news coverage and social media campaign touting the effort would have you believe that every partner in every store is clamoring for this union to put it to the corporate titans. The reality of the numbers is already bearing out a different view.  In the first two votes that have been held so far, the two Buffalo area stores, those voting yes totaled 34, those voting no totaled 17.  51 partners participated in the vote. However, there were 82 partners in total eligible to vote across both stores. 31 partners didn’t care enough about this effort to vote. The votes of 34 partners, less than half of the total eligible, will control the outcome for the 82. That is hardly a resounding endorsement coming from within the first two stores to spearhead this effort. Unionization among restaurant employees makes up only as much as 3% of the restaurant industry. Among the reasons for this is the high turnover rate in the restaurant business. While Starbucks has the lowest turnover rate in the industry by a wide margin the reality is that most of the partners favoring this movement may not be around in a year when contracts could be ratified. 

I am a Starbucks customer of over 20 years, I am a stockholder, and in 2018 at the age of 52 I became a full time Starbucks Partner. I have been and continue to be very happy with my experience in almost every way that I have participated in the company. I understand not everyone can feel the same way. Every workplace can be made better, and Starbucks is no exception. With the most recent two and upcoming third increase in pay Starbucks will spend an additional $1 billion on its workforce. The company has strived to balance the increasing needs of its partners with the satisfaction of its customers and return of capital to its shareholders. All three classes of stakeholders are equally important as none can prosper without the other two. Being subject to a collective bargaining agreement may create more risks to the long-term prosperity of partners than the benefits it provides. I believe that unionization will foster a dangerous adversarial spirit, as it appears to have already begun, which is quite contrary to how the company has strived to serve all our needs.

On the Starbucks Workers United website, they say they are “not anti-Starbucks”. Their messaging across social media and news media, however, is decisively anti-Starbucks. They acknowledge that Starbucks is the leader in the coffee industry and one of the most successful companies in the world. Starbucks did not get this way by neglecting their employees, customers, or stockholders. I encourage all partners who want to participate in that continued success to do so constructively, realizing that we are all equal stakeholders.



Here are the annual increases in the CPI (CPI-U) from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

2010

1.6

2011

3.2

2012

2.1

2013

1.5

2014

1.6

2015

0.1

2016

1.3

2017

2.1

2018

2.4

2019

1.8

2020

1.2

2021

4.7

All Starbucks pay raises during those years have been greater than the CPI.  The increase this year to a $15 minimum well exceeds this demand.

Starbucks does largely apply a one size fits all approach to raises with very few variables.  I think that seniority and performance pay would be a good thing. 

While people like to point out the amount of profit Starbucks has made or the compensation of Kevin Johnson, they overlook, intentionally or not, the fact the company is spending an additional $1 billion on employee compensation with our last two and third upcoming pay increases.




While it never hurts to ask, this is very unlikely to become reality. In 2020, only 4% of large firms (200 or more workers) paid 100% of premiums for individual plans and only 1% paid 100% for family plans (KFF, 2020).  While Starbucks is a large company ($4 billion profits last 12 months) they are not that large. My insurance before Starbucks through a Teamsters union plan was paid 100% by the company, however that company had 4x the profits of Starbucks. Last year I paid 29% of the premium for my Starbucks provided insurance. This was typical of payments made by employees for companies of our size.

The amount of our premiums that Starbucks does subsidize is greater than anyone else in the industry and our plan quality is among, if not the best. We also receive fully paid college tuition, an excellent low-cost 401k with match, stock purchase and stock grants, and paid family leave. We have the best benefits in our industry. 



I can’t figure out how this even makes sense. Our tips average around $1 per hour. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Our wages are our guarantee. Tips are a bonus, a gratuity, provided by our customers. In effect this demand is for an extra $4.50 in hourly wages. Tips are not guaranteed. This is absurd.



This is already being worked on and will be implemented. Read your weekly update. It is not a simple as throwing a switch.

Personally, as a partner who works almost exclusively on window, I don’t want to slow my window times by having the customer enter a pin and then a tip, probably goof it up and do it again. Most of my card tendering customers are dropping cash in the box. The ones who don’t aren’t going to tip no matter how they pay.

 


This is like asking for a bonus because you showed up today. Of course, Starbucks is a tough and demanding job even when we’re fully staffed. It’s the only food service job I’ve worked since college, 35 years ago, but I understand the reasons why Starbucks is so much more demanding.

We’ve had days recently where five people have called off in one day. There are almost always two or more. If we’re severely short staffed, we turn off MOP temporarily or in extreme cases operate as drive through only. Our manager and SSVs run the store with what we’ve got, and we get through it.  

It think it takes too many write-ups and consultations up the chain to eliminate the problem people. The red tape does however protect the partners from perhaps being terminated too soon and for the wrong reasons.  The staff shortages we encounter most often aren't because of issues in scheduling, they are the result of partners not taking this work seriously and calling off too frequently without accountability.

 


Nobody else in the industry does this. Some chains provide only a discount and nothing for free even on the day you work. The company made free items available every day during the height of the pandemic because of store closures and drastic cuts in our hours. The company has restored the standard practice that had been in place for quite some time. This offering during exigent circumstances was expressly deemed temporary yet some people have decided it is rather an entitlement.

 


                Starbucks Workers United is overplaying its hand with the #Memphis7 exaggeration. It might play well with people who do not work for Starbucks, and it makes a catchy hashtag for Twitter and the crayon drawn signs waved by the staunch members of the movement. Most of us, however, are quite aware of how things really work at Starbucks. When listening to those 7 partners individually, it is obvious they are omitting relevant details of what they did wrong to earn their dismissal. Above all, the manager knew better than to open the store after hours to non-scheduled partners and worse to members of the public. This was such a flagrant violation of our policies that I wonder if they did it with the awareness that they may be fired and therefore blessed with the opportunity to cry “union busting”. In the very least the manager’s poor discretion is responsible for getting her staff fired.  In the extreme, she and the organizers dared the company to enforce a serious policy so that they could frame her team as victims.

                Contrary to what the union suggests, it is difficult to get fired from Starbucks. Managers are required to consult with upper management before issuing a write up. This is to prevent the managers from acting unilaterally, capriciously, or in retaliation. Employee files should meticulously document the reason an action is taken. For some who may deserve it the permanent path out the door is far too long and burdensome on managers who could serve us all better by being able to make that decision without the excessive red tape. However, these policies exists to protect us from unfair practices. No system is perfect and foolproof, but Starbucks builds layers into this process to protect our partners.                

                Of course, nobody wants to and rarely admits how much they deserved to be fired. To turn it around and allege they were fired, however, for simply their efforts to organize is disingenuous and an embarrassment to Starbucks partners who know there is far more to this than the dishonest stories they are telling.

                In the time between the afterhours meeting and the day the partners were fired you can be assured the company scrutinized the video in every detail for each partner’s participation, actions, and timing. Do you really think this has not been enforced before? We have a store here in Pittsburgh that, after review of the video, had its manager and a half dozen or more partners fired for being in the store, after hours, without consent.

               

 

 

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