Thursday, August 31, 2006

Starbucks Unionized?

Let's talk Starbuck's. Those ubiquitous shops, named for a character in Moby Dick, which specialize in highly caffeinated burnt coffee. How's that for a business plan?

I don't drink coffee very often, de-caf when I do, but there are times when I have a ten dollar bill in my pocket that I'm just dying to waste. So I 'll stop in for some of their absurdly overpriced lemonade or orange juice and one of the day old sandwiches in the cooler. I like sweets, but after several failed attempts to purchase one of their attractively displayed bakery items that wasn't dry or stale, I found that something wrapped or sealed was generally a more flavorful choice.

I never cease to be amazed that Starbuck's has been so successful. Burnt coffee taste and bad food can't be their only charms. Clearly they tapped into a powerful psychological urge that drives people to seek places where they can sit around and waste time without being arrested for loitering.

Starbuck's has filled a huge void and nobody else has really stepped up to compete with them, except the occasional Caribou Coffee shop around here.  And wasn't there once a Seattle's Best? 

It makes me wonder if anything can prevent them from taking over the world. Ooops, too late.

Especially now that Starbuck's is about to add 250 more stores around the Chicago area. It seems like there's already about a million here now. Unless you live in a minority neighborhood, where, it has been reported, there are none.

In fact, while most places that serve food around the Chicago metro area are staffed with Latinos these days, most of the people who work at any of the Starbuck's I have ever been to, in the city or the suburbs, look the same: predominantly white, predominantly young, predominantly attractive. They look collegiate and very hip, based on their hair, clothes and manner of speech.

No recruits from the neighborhoods or homeless shelters it would seem. 

There are always some notable exceptions of course. The very loud, unpleasant, and seriously unattractive woman at one store close to me, for instance. Her hair was so wild, woolly and gray that I thought I might find some of it floating in my cocoa last winter. EWWW.  That was when I began to notice who worked at those places.  And most of them look like they just stepped out of an Abercrombie ad. After putting their clothes on. 

Surprisingly, I even ran into one of my neighbors working behind the counter one day at the local Starbuck's here -- a married guy with a couple of kids and a mortgage.  He was "between jobs" as a trader and took advantage of the part-time hours with medical insurance until he got hired again.

Everyone I've talked to who has worked there raves about the medical insurance they offer even though most only work part-time. That seems like a huge perk. One of those things that get bargained away when you unionize. The hourly wage seems fairly competitive, considering that they are only making hot and cold liquids and pouring them into containers. Or sliding a cookie into a bag.

Why then, are Starbuck's employees, sorry baristas, unionizing? The company seems like an ideal place for a student or stay at home spouse looking for a part-time gig, especially with the medical insurance attached.

After reading that all the Starbucks in New York City have unionized, I think that the IWW -- International Workers of the World -- realized that the population employed by Starbuck's had reached a critical mass.  Mass being the operative word, since unions are about making huge sums of money, too -- and large numbers of people employed by the same company are crucial to achieving those goals. 

Apparently the baristas have demanded higher wages. A classic union request. Are they aware that they're only serving coffee? Did they forget they have medical insurance while only working part-time?

On the other hand is the IWW just using Starbuck's to practice for an assault on Wal-Mart employees?

The only comparison I can think of for the work baristas do would be the work of waitresses in diners who pour coffee all day long. [I believe you have to work in a restaurant to call yourself a server.]

But keeping the coffee coming is one tenth of what waitresses do. For those who may have forgotten, they also take orders for entire meals which require them to balance multiple plates along their arms, wipe the counter, and fend off smartass guys trying to free pie.  Literally and figuratively.

Baristas, on the other hand, get paid twice as much. For half the work. And more perks.

Plus, being called a barista has to be worth something. Whoever came up with that idea was a genius and stupid at the same time. Barista sounds like an important job. Unfortunately the moniker has given the people who perform that job [pouring coffee, remember?] a false sense of importance. Typical of a generation of young people who were given gold stars just for showing up at school. 

Also, according to union organizer demands, the baristas want a better chance to become fulltime employees. Why? Doing nothing but pouring coffee all day doesn't seem like much of a career move.  

Apparently there are safety issues, too. Huh? I can understand when you're working around machinery that can remove fingers and arms. But just what would the dangers of making coffee be? Coffee rings on their clothing? Caffeine jitters? Callouses from putting lids on the cups? Certainly nothing life threatening.  Or anything that should cause permanent disability.

I'm not getting it. 

Needless to say the union movement started in New York. Since then, a couple of things have happened.

Starbuck's is coming up with excuses to fire union organizers, which is illegal, but this stuff always happens.

And the union is actually gaining a foothold outside New York.

I predict that Starbuck's will go the way of the Teamsters, that bastion of sit around and get paid to do nothing employment.  Once unionized baristas will refuse to pour more than one cup of coffee every fifteen minutes.  There will be special people who do nothing but espressos and capppucinos.  The cocoa person won't be allowed to make frappuccinos, and there will be a person who does nothing but plug in the coffee machines.

Which brings me to the final union demand -- to end the understaffing.  What understaffing? Every time I've been to Starbuck's there are at least three and sometimes four people working beyond the counter.  How many people does it take to make a cup of coffee and take your money? 

I think what we have is a bunch of whiny thirty something slacker wannabes who haven't got a clue what real work is like. Now they want to unionize.

Be careful what you wish for. [Might as well kiss that medical coverage good bye.]


salemslot9 said...

I've never visited a Starbucks
I'm not sad, either
there's always Dunkin Donuts :)

mutualaide said...

I'm a DD fan myself.  Starbucks is just too ... uh ... ewww.

screaminremo303 said...

What they wish for is something for nothing.

What we get are a bunch more Democrats.

Wait until they see what union dues do to their part-time paycheck.

bosoxblue6993w said...

i avoid STARBUCKS religiously ... in much the same way that i avoid typhus, GOP fund-raising rallys, NASCAR  and movies with Sonny Tufts.     the last time i was in a STARBUCKS, they made me feel like i was wearing dirty underwear

lacaza3 said...

I worked for a big corporation that was union. I like somethings about the union however the young people didnt realize the sweat of others that got them there benefits and now that sit on there fat asses and whine...
Donna In TEXAS

ladeeoftheworld said...

I can't go into a Starbucks.  I can't go into a Jimmy Johns sub shop either.  Same reasons.  They make me feel weird.

rollinghillsides said...

Oh wow, this entry has provided 'fighting fodder' in my household!    Being that I live with a fine, upstanding, very intelligent 21 year old who has worked very hard to become a hard-working 'barista' who is valued by her employers and her faithful customers, I believe you need to experience the extensive training rituals, and then walk a few miles in her shoes before you can state that Starbucks workers are "a bunch of whiny thirty something slacker wannabes who haven't got a clue what real work is like"!   Believe me, she works long and hard, and she definitely does far more than "pouring coffee all day, which doesn't seem like much of a career move" ... in your words.   Very 'not nice' of you, in my opinion, Mrs. Linklater!  I'd love to see the comments you'd receive if this entry were to be posted in the LiveJournal Community of 'Baristas' ... oh boy !!!  

jevanslink said...

Well, she seems to fit the profile of the ideal hire at Starbuck's.

Could she take an order for a tall de-caf mocha frap with a shot of almond without screwing it up?  Either when she made it.  Or when she told someone else to make it?  I doubt it.

Aside from the high cost and even higher calories, I stopped ordering this confection because baristas EVERYWHERE got confuised if my order had more than THREE requests.  That shot of almond got 'em every time.  And I had to watch to be sure they used de-caf, because too much is as potentially dangerous as eating blowfish for me.  And baristas seem to have short term memory problems.  Even writing the order on a cup didn't help!!!!

Even simple orders like hot chocolate have been ruined with scorched milk.  

So I get my hot chocolate at White Hen Pantry or Dunkin Donuts.  It's cheaper and tastes a lot better.

Mrs. L

jevanslink said...

Here's the link referred to by rollinghillsides in an earlier comment.  I went there and learned that baristas aren't exactly a happy crowd.  They bitch about the customers. They whine about their hours.

PLUS -- it seems like the stuff they do besides make coffiee is clean the floors and equipment.

Mrs. L

witstar2 said...

Not liking Starbucks as a place to patronize for personal reasons is acceptable, we all have preferences.  But, being so condescending and belittling concerning the business and the people that work there (or people that work anywhere for that matter) is rude, closed minded and shows your ultimate immaturity and lack of wisdom.  Every job has value.  Every person that works at Starbucks does not fit into your grossly exaggerated generalization.

I see that you are proud of being an outspoken individual.  I agree that speaking one's mind is a good thing.  Speaking out with wisdom and tact, however, is an even better thing.  There are ways to speak one's mind eloquently (without reverting to bashing) that creates an opinion that can be respected.  

I do not respect your opinion.    


jevanslink said...

Basically you're just one of those people who can't respect someone else's opinion. If you don't happen to agree with it.

Actually this entry was about unionizing a business that shouldn't be unionized. The rest was gravy.

And Starbuck's own people dis their workplace more than I ever did. I even provdied a link so you could read it yourself.

I have no problem with anyone who does their work well.  However, my up close and personal experience has left me supremely unempressed with the quality of service I have received at Starbuck's.  Along with the quality of the product.

Finally, to be perfectly clear about how I feel about people who want to make a CAREER out of being a barista -- can you spell LOSER?

Mrs. L

witstar2 said...

I respect many opinions and carry many respectable ones of my own.  Do not assume to know me.  I, unlike you, respect any and every person that is gainfully employed no matter what their job may be.  

I knew that your responding comment would prove me right.

I rest my case.

P.S.  I recommend spell check.

stardustxsiren said...

Lemme break it down for ya, sister friend.

1) Highly Caffeinated

Whether you know it or not, the coffee you choose not to imbibe at Starbucks has NO MORE caffeine content than your general Dunkin Donuts muddy water. We don't add anything to the brew to make it superdeduper caffeinated. No, there's no crack in the brewer basket. It's just coffee. JUST COFFEE! You said it yourself...

2) Burnt

Let me ask you a question. When you DO decide to grace our humble halls with your presence, your highness, what blend do you drink? Do you get the light? The bold? Oh get DECAF. Of which there is usually but one choice. SO. You're going to tell me that just because you have walked in a handful of times to your local Bux and gotten the decaf, that all of a sudden our entire line of coffees (fair trade certified and organic blends as well, mind you) are all "burnt"? Where else has your palate been, my friend? I'd like to know your credentials.

3) Overpriced

We are not serving you swill. Starbucks, by trade, is a purveyor of high end beverages. You can choose to funnel your hard earned cash into a $3.50 latte, or to drink caffeinated piss for less over at Dunkin Donuts. That's your choice. (By the way - what is it that you do? Besides sit at home and bitch about coffee?)


stardustxsiren said...

4) Stale bakery items

Okay. Hard truth here is that this may happen. Because WE ARE NOT MAGICAL. No, we can't go in the back and bake you a new marble loaf. Nope, can't warm up that cookie either. Our pastries are delivered from distribution centers throughout the country. Here in CT alone, one district gets theirs from New York. Another from Boston. My point here is, the pastries, dependent on the distribution center, come from different bakeries. I don't know about out there in Chicago, but just because you've had a bad experience out in that area does not mean it goes for the rest of our stores.

5) The Third Place
As pretentious as some of Starbucks' (yes, THAT is the proper apostrophe placement) terms and standards are (you know, calling their employees Partners and such), I do find that their mission statement is quite in line with what I'd like to see in a company. One part of said statement is to create the "Third Place" environment for their customers. One that is relaxing, where they don't feel rushed. We're not fast food. We're a coffee shop. Come in, have a mocha, sit back and relax with the paper or a book. It's a place to be that's not quite work and not quite home. Sounds kinda sappy, but it works. When have you last spent more than 5 minutes in a Dunkin Donuts?

(Sidebar: Seattle's Best was a sister company of Starbucks until it was merged. Thank you, back to your regularly scheduled bitching.)

stardustxsiren said...

12) "I think what we have is a bunch of whiny thirty something slacker wannabes who haven't got a clue what real work is like."

Slackers? Do you realize this job affords NO sitting time whatsoever? You're on your feet, back and forth, at the beck and call of the general public. Service with a smile. I spent six and a half hours in anaphylactic shock in the hospital one night from an albuterol treatment, and guess what? I was at work 2 hours later at 4:45 in the morning so that Joe Schmo could come get his iced quad grande sugar free hazelnut nonfat light ice extra whip caramel macchiato. Am I a slacker? I don't think so.

And last, but not least.

Do not, I repeat, do NOT insult my intelligence or doubt my competence without even knowing who I am. I am that 21 year old barista who has worked herself to the bone to get to where she is right now. Could I make your drink with three customizations right? Yes. Could the particular barista at the Starbucks you frequented do it? I don't know.

Your problem is mostly generalization and stereotypes. Your little corner of the world does not equate to the rest of the company or the individuals in their employ.

I understand your stance on the unionization, but your point on that could have been made without generally bashing ALL those employed by the company.

I'd really love to see you try and get through just two training shifts at Starbucks and see if you think it's still just "pouring coffee".

Damn, I need a caramel apple cider...

PS: As far as the Barista community on LJ goes...that is our place to bitch and whine about work. This is your place to bitch and whine about coffee. Any questions?

stardustxsiren said...

7) Part-time benefits

Twenty hours a week average gets you benefits. This is not a stretch, really. We're not so different from other retail and even desk jobs. I'm sorry...if you were working part-time somewhere and they offered you benefits. I do believe you'd take them if you were in my situation. No moron in their right mind would say, "No thanks, I'm good!"

Starbucks spent more on their employees' benefits and training last year than they did on coffee. Think about that.

8) "Only making hot and cold liquids and pouring them into containers. Or sliding a cookie into a bag."

I'm not going to go into all that goes on in a normal shift at Starbucks, but it is evident, madam, that you have not paid ANY attention at all.

9) Union stuff.

Okay. I'm not for a Unionization Movement (tm). I'm really not. I think we're given enough great benefits, partner contacts, perks, etc. So I'm not going to argue with you. I think the whole "organize now" mentality is a little overdone and unneeded. I still don't agree, however, that it's "just pouring coffee". When you look at it, most of those behind this union movement are managers, assistant managers and shift supervisors. Your typical barista, true, is not in it for the long haul. They're college kids that need some money. And what's wrong with that? But more on that later.

10) Safety

Any food service job has safety concerns. I've burned myself at least once a week since I started back in April. I don't complain. It's part of a job. I'm sure postal carriers get sunburn, and data entry clerks get carpal tunnel. That's part of the job. You deal.

11) "How many people does it take to make a cup of coffee and take your money?"

Two service channels open, one person on bar, one on cold bev and one in back of house to keep it all running smoothly, if you're a large and busy store. Would you rather wait 10 minutes for your coffee? Didn't think so. That'd just be an

stardustxsiren said...

6) Minorities and "Urban Coffee Opportunities" (

Starbucks, in partnership with Magic Johnson, has created a program called "Urban Coffee Opportunities" that is specifically designed to put shops in locations which would be beneficial to both the company and the neighborhood.

The "typical" barista you describe in your area is again, not necessarily the same for all areas of the country - or the world. Just from personal experience, when my store opened, we had a handful of what you would call your "typical" Starbucks employee...we also had a 40 something year old father of 7, a 32 year old coffee master, and even one guy who was just graduating high school. Diversity is another part of Starbucks' Mission Statement.

Since I've referred to it it is in its' entirety:

Provide a great work environment and treat each other with respect and dignity.

Embrace diversity as an essential component in the way we do business.

Apply the highest standards of excellence to the purchasing, roasting and fresh delivery of our coffee.

Develop enthusiastically satisfied customers all of the time.

Contribute positively to our communities and our environment.

Recognize that profitability is essential to our future success.

Starbucks does not hire any random human being with a spinal cord and a cognizant brain. Something else goes into the hiring process. This is evident in the "manner of speech" you referred to. You will not walk into a Starbucks and be asked, "Yo, what you want?". It. Just. Does. Not. Happen. We have brains. We're articulate. We may be working in retail, but that does not make us peons.

ber144 said...

Wow!  I had no idea a green apron was such a big defense mechanism.

swibirun said...

My god, I am so over Starbucks. What's wrong with Tweek's Coffee in South Park, CO?


southernmush said...

Hello.....Being that I frequent Starbucks's from time to time with my mom to get coffee and a dessert I have to say the following:

Many business professionals such as myself stop there on a lunch break to get coffee. I think that it is a very successful place with people there who I can say are hard working individuals. There are many people who go there from all walks of life and who are all different. I have NEVER seen people  there who look like they stepped out of an Abercrombie ad. I think the people there deserve a pay that I get from the job that I do because they work just as hard as I do. The workers there are quite hard working. I don't think that knowing how to make a Cappuchino is easy I certainly don't think I could do it or even how to do it for that matter. I would never call the many people who work at Starbucks something slacker wannabes they are hard working talented individuals who do a job that many of us can't. Their talents to know how to make a really good cup of coffee is a talent that I don't think I would have any talents at.

I have to give a nod to all of those hard working individuals who take the time to do a job well done. Anyone who is willing to work hard and with talent deserves to be noticed and appreciated. I will continue to be a visitor to Starbucks and the next time I go there I will say thanks to the person behind the counter for a job well done since I know I wouldn't be able to make a plain coffee let alone a Cappuchino.

To those workers at Starbucks your AMAZING !!!!!!!!