A Starbucks barista has caught the attention of the company's top executives after publishing a petition that says workers are being stretched too thin due to labor cuts.
In a petition on CoWorker.org, Jaime Prater says current labor practices are "sinking morale at corporate stores." Recent labor cuts, he claims, are some of the most extreme in the company's history and have led to "gross underemployment." The result is less staff, less pay, and declining customer service. The "third place experience" Starbucks has long prided itself on, he writes, is disappearing.
Staffing "has gone from tight to infuriating.
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Prater said missed revenue expectations led the company to cut back baristas' hours: "Bonuses and personal days have also been eliminated, and sick days are offered only in areas that require them by law." Raises, he told BuzzFeed, which were previously given bi-annually, have been cut back to once a year.
In his petition, Prater writes that staffing "has gone from tight to infuriating. Labor has been cut so much in corporate stores, that one call-off (an employee calling in sick) impacts the entire day, as managers are directed to cut shifts to save on labor costs. Baristas trying to work more than 25 hours a week (myself included) find that a near impossible task."
The petition has so far garnered more than 3,600 signatures of its 4,000 signature goal. Among those who commented on the petition are several who identify themselves as current and former Starbucks employees.
One says he was forced to leave his Starbucks job after his hours "were forcibly cut from 35 to 20 a week." Another, who identifies herself as a shift supervisor, says she initially "bought into the Starbucks culture" but is now embarrassed to work in her store. "I have never felt more under appreciated, used and belittled than I have working here right now," she writes. "Being a Shift Supervisor is a nightmare and it's way too stressful for the pay. Why is coffee this hard?"
Starbucks is assessing the situation.
Jaime Riley, Starbucks' Director of Global Corporate Communications, says Starbucks has not instituted company-wide pay cuts, nor staffing cuts. "We are aways evaluating the workload and staffing based on what each particular store needs," says Riley. Staffing appropriately, she says, is of the utmost importance to the company.
"When our partners [Starbucks' lingo for employees] are engaged and happy with the work they are doing, they have better connections to the customers," she says. "We want to continue to have these conversations, and our leaders are constantly in direct conversation with their partners."
Máximo Cortéz has been an employee of Starbucks, on and off, for eight years. After leaving the company for nine months, then coming back recently, he tells Eater he saw dramatic changes. But he hasn't seen his hours cut. At his Houston, Tex. store, though, he says there is more work to do now than ever before.
"When I first started working here, about eight years ago, Starbucks had maybe 20 drinks on the menu," he says. "Now, it's like double that." As a result, baristas are doing more — and cutbacks mean just one employee might be responsible for making hot drinks, cold drinks, blending Frappuccinos, and heating up breakfast sandwiches. "Basically, across the board, employees are doing more work," says Cortéz.
The ease of ordering through Starbucks' mobile app has put a strain on baristas.
Starbucks' Mobile Order and Pay system, which has led to a dramatic increase in sales, is also leading to more work for the few workers that are on hand during a shift. Cortéz says there are typically three employees on staff during his weekend shift — one on the cash register, one working the drive-thru, and one working behind the bar.
"Just last weekend, we had someone place an order for 12 drinks through the app," he says. "And we already had a long line of people in the store. If we had more people on staff, that would have been much easier."
Starbucks executives have always touted the company's benefits for workers and, in the past, have argued against pay and benefit cuts. In 2013, for instance, Schultz made headlines when he announced the company would not use the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as an "excuse to cut benefits or lower benefits for its workers."
In an update made to his petition on Wednesday, Prater says he received a response from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
Riley confirmed with Eater that Schultz did indeed reach out to Prater, "in order to better understand the concerns he expressed."
Riley adds that the company values continues to value its employees, just as it always has. "Above all else, we place such emphasis on having everyone from the leadership level down having this constant dialogue," she says. "In this particular case, [Schultz] really wanted to understand what the particular challenges for this employee are."
A D.C.-area Starbucks was so busy on Friday morning that the line wrapped through the entire store. Approximately seven people were in line, three more were waiting for mobile orders, and another five were sitting down. Only two baristas were working the counter (one on the register, and one making drinks).
Cortéz says that has become all-too-common at Starbucks stores throughout the country. He wrote his own letter to Schultz this week, requesting the company allow its stores to hire more people, schedule more hours, and give raises. "In the short term, it might to be a hit to the company," he notes. "But if you have happy workers and shorter wait times for customers, Starbucks can increase their sales."