Recently, the United Auto Workers Union made historic gains as a number of their factories shut down for several weeks, forcing the automakers into record concessions. While many onlookers found the demands unreasonable and absurd, the companies capitulated and struck deals to get the factories back online.
However, given the hours worked, the billions of profits made by the company, and the physical toll on the employees, it isn’t unreasonable to demand better benefits and more money. Coffee on the other hand?
Employees at hundreds of Starbucks stores nationwide walked off of the job on Thursday, demanding improved staffing and schedules, among other things. The walkout coincided with Red Cup Day, a promotional gimmick during which Starbucks gives out free red, reusable holiday-themed cups with every coffee purchase.
Naturally, the promotion means huge numbers of customers, which requires fully staffed stores. If the aim of the walkout was to disrupt business, it may have fallen short. Starbucks said that “a few dozen stores with some partners (were) on strike,” but despite the walkouts, more than half of the stores were open, “serving customers.”
Red Cup Day is a big deal for the caffeine-slinging brand, as data showed that visits to US Starbucks on the day last year jumped 94% over the daily average for the full year. While workers picketed outside the Astor Place outlet, with chants of “no contract, no coffee,” business as usual continued inside as orders were filled as usual.
The Union, Workers United, represents more than 9,000 Starbucks employees at about 360 stores nationwide. Red Cup Day is notorious for being one of the “most infamously hard, understaffed days,” with employees regularly taking abuse from entitled customers over long wait times.
One New York City barista named Mary Boca relayed a need for higher pay and more employees at her store. She cited the policy of ownership not to allow tipping, which would account for an extra couple hundred dollars a month to employees pay.
On the subject of staffing, Boca said: “I have heard our managers saying they need to hire 12 people. At a peak period, that’s a lot of people to be out of.” Speculation is the store can not get fully staffed as prospective employees don’t want to work without the extra income from tips.
Starbucks has nearly 10,000 US company-owned stores, but according to the Seattle-based coffee giant, less than 3% are represented by a union. With those numbers, even a walk out on the busiest day of the year isn’t likely to move the needle in terms of gaining pay and staffing.
One Chicago-based employese said: “They have promised the world to us and they have not delivered. I mean, you can imagine the Starbucks orders. Decaf grande non-fat, three-and-a-half Splenda mocha with no whip. Multiply that by 100 and you have just drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink. We just have basically an infinite amount of drinks and we’re understaffed and we’re underpaid and we’re sick of it.”
It isn’t building Ford’s, but Starbucks workers have a grievance, and legitimate concerns. However, until they gain a larger membersghip with the Workers Union, nothing is likely to change.
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