By David Soublet, Sr.
Starbucks operates a retail store in the Pan Am building on Poydras Street in New Orleans with 20 or so non-management workers (referred to as “partners”). The employees at this location, and several around the country, have recently filed to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Per Forbes magazine the Starbucks movement began in late 2021 when a Buffalo, NY store voted to unionize.
The website for Starbucks Workers United lists 15 so called “non-economic proposals” to ownership. They claim to already have 6,500 nationally organized workers. Most of the demands are common and realistic (e.g. guaranteed schedules, better benefits for full- and part-time workers). Others are, perhaps, indicative of hostile work environments at Starbucks. One proposal is a work environment “free of unlawful discrimination, harassment and bullying” and a “zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment and abuse”. Are these policies not already documented and posted prominently in the work sites? The workers also seek the right to defend themselves against customer aggression without retaliation. Seems pretty reasonable based on the multitude of videos circulating showing customers going bonkers in retail establishments.
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Union members pay dues. Louisiana is a “right-to-work” state which presents disincentives to unionizing not found in other states. In right-to-work states, employees in unionized workplaces may refuse to join the union. But they still may enjoy the benefits of union membership, including the compensation negotiated by union officers. So, at a unionized Starbucks in Louisiana, one dues-paying barista could be preparing a $ 5 cinnamon dolce latte right next to a non-dues paying one whipping up a $ 5 iced caramel macchiato.
Last August 2022, Starbucks reportedly raised the minimum hiring wage in all U.S. stores to a $15/hour. Later last year they also implemented credit card / debit card tipping technology. That enables customers to further recognize their favorite coffee makers.
Daily retail coffee drinkers are amongst the most loyal customer base in the beverage industry. Starbucks reportedly grosses more than $ 32 billion in world-wide revenue, and boasts a 37% share of the U.S. market. Starbucks owns and operates about 9,300 in the U.S. Louisiana has 84, with 46 in the metro New Orleans area. Its big business by any measure, but its not an irreplaceable product. Those who must have it would probably make their own and bring it to work with them if they can’t buy it retail. Well, maybe not a macchiato.
Paying union dues while working in coffee retail at minimum wages doesn’t seem like the best move you could make to enhance your career. The path to decent wages in retail generally involves taking on managerial responsibilities. But, aren’t managers normally charged with many of the complaints lodged by the people they supervise? They must manage things like poor work schedules, inadequate staffing, discrimination and harassment. Perhaps lower-level employees at places like Starbucks would be better served by viewing their jobs more like short-term employment, and not worthy of paycheck deductions for union dues.