Over the past 18 months, I have been working as a barista at Starbucks–and I love it here. I love making coffee, and I love chatting with customers. Despite the love I have for my work, I have to speak up on behalf of my co-workers: Something has to change in the way Starbucks is treating us.
This became clear to me when I met other Starbucks workers through Rise Up Georgia, a racial and economic justice organization based in Atlanta that is a partner of Center for Popular Democracy, the union-supported group that released a report Wednesday criticizing Starbuck’s labor practices. Through talking with my co-workers, I realized that I wasn’t the only one having a hard time planning my life around my work.
I have seen many co-workers quit on short notice because they couldn’t earn enough to make ends meet or their work schedule was too erratic to plan important things like child care. Though I faced some of the same issues, the hardest part of the job for me was without a doubt the so-called “skeleton-shifts”–severely understaffed shifts that left me stressed, exhausted, and, as a result, sick.
Earlier this year, I worked four days in a row with only my shift supervisor in the back to support me. A co-worker called in sick each day, so I was alone serving the entire store. My store has a drive-through, two registers in the front and a coffee bar–and I was the only one tending all of them.
The work was so grueling that I eventually developed a muscle spasm in my back and was forced to stop working for three months in order to recover from my injury.
When I took my struggles to Starbucks, the company listened and showed me that it cared about my problems. I was offered the opportunity to transfer to a store closer to my home so that I could have a shorter commute, and I now know how to indicate my preferred availability for shifts, so that I have a better chance of planning my life outside of work.
I’m so happy that Starbucks heard me, but I’m just one person. Unfortunately many Starbucks workers don’t speak up and voice their struggles.
My co-workers silently work “clopen” shifts, where they shut down the store at night and come back the next morning to open it. They silently deal with inconsistent work schedules. They silently cope with not knowing how much work they’re going to get each week, making it impossible for them to budget—and budgeting is already hard on $8.25 an hour.
The solution should be obvious for Starbucks. Instead of relying on every worker to bravely speak up about their struggles, Starbucks should change a system that is fundamentally broken.
I’m grateful for the improvements in my schedule, but I strongly believe that all of us deserve hours we can count on. I am speaking up and writing this op-ed in the hope that Howard Schultz, the CEO, will listen to the workers of his company and see that store-level problems don’t happen because of individual managers. It’s the company-wide structure that is failing us.
I think Starbucks is a great company, and I still believe that it wants its employees to be happy. But to get there Starbucks workers need a seat at the table.
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