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