Starbucks labor strife spills onto Reddit as workers are told to ‘smile’ and their jobs are a ‘privilege’ by anonymous writer

Screen capture of message that started the Reddit spat.
Screen capture of message that started the Reddit spat.

Frustration among Starbucks workers who say their hours and pay have been slashed took an ugly turn this week as it spilled awkwardly onto forums at Reddit used by employees to “venti” about the coffee giant.

You might recall this summer’s controversy, as workers complained that labor cutbacks left many scrambling for hours. Some baristas said shifts were cut to 4 or 5 hours, which still required an hour’s commute.  An online petition got 7,000 signatures (now 17,000) and the attention of headquarters in Seattle, which promised changes.

This week, someone posted a note on Reddit which reminded Starbucks “partners” that working at the chain is a “privilege,” and urged them to put a happy face on the situation. It was titled “Why Labor Went Down.” The author claimed to a be a worker making his or her first Reddit post.

“How can you get more customers in the store, thereby earning your labor,” the post read.  “Make every moment right. Smile! Put a little extra into cleaning and doing your tasks…

“It is a privilege …to live a life striving to make others happy…don’t abuse that privilege. Thanks for reading fellow partners,” it concluded.

The post was quickly removed, but not before commenters accused Starbucks of “gaslighting,” suggesting the post was written by some in Starbucks corporate office, not a store worker.

“Part of me wishes I would just not have seen it altogether. How humiliating,” wrote one. “I’m sorry Corp, you trained to hire people who THINK. But now you threaten us.”

A Starbucks media relations representative told me the post did not come from the firms’ corporate offices.

“There’s nothing that we can tell you about the deleted post, as it did not come from us,” said company spokeswoman Maggie Jantzen.

It’s possible the post post was a “troll” designed to tap into worker frustration; or an attention-getting stunt designed timed for Labor Day weekend. It’s probably impossible to determine its origin and real intention. But reaction to it shows Starbucks workers are still plenty frustrated.

Starbucks does occasionally use social media and other tools to communicate with workers, she said, but always identifies itself.

“While we have occasionally responded to our partners (employees) on Reddit, we are transparent when we do so and it is not our primary method of communicating with partners,” she wrote.”We use several channels to engage and respond to our partners including our Partner Hub (an internal company-wide platform) and social channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat, and direct communications to our stores.”

I did find another instance where it appears Starbucks talks to its workers via Reddit.  When a worker complained about lids on cold coffee being clunky, this response was posted:

“Please don’t joke about the sourcing of Starbucks products on a public forum like this is (sic) you are a partner. It makes Starbucks as a whole look bad and obviously we don’t want that :),” the post says. “Something I like to think about is, “how can I create an inspired moment outside of work?” Ask yourself “am I creating an inspired moment right now? Or am I helping to foster negativity towards a company that is ranked one of the best companies in the world to work for?”Just something to keep in mind! :)”

Whatever is happening at Starbucks, those who are excited about the reappearance of Pumpkin Spice Lattes this week at Starbucks should take a fresh look at the folks who are serving up those pricey drinks.  Their situation is complex, and pressures are coming from multiple directions — beginning with higher wages demanded by minimum-wage law changes.

In this summer’s petition, a Starbucks barista explains that the popularity of the Starbucks app has cut into worker take-home pay.

“The tip situation has also drastically changed,” she says. “Before the  implementation of a Starbucks Reward program (MSR), tips were higher. Now, with a growing percentage and majority of customers using the app, and their registered cards, tips are in major decline. When you factor  that in with actual take home pay, it’s a scary place to be.”

The Starbucks app does include an easy way for consumers to tip when the order electronically.  And Starbucks is well-known as a chain that treats workers well. It offers health benefits and a generous “free college” program. But the chain is facing myriad pressures: market saturation, minimum wage rate increases are just the beginning.

As it wrestles with keeping consumers happy and workers happy, it’s no surprise that frustration would spill out onto the Internet.  Whoever wrote the Reddit post, it’s degrading tell workers their job is a privilege.

Meanwhile, if you have been converted into a Starbucks app user — 25% of store transactions are now digital —  leave the same tip you did when paying in cash.  It’s easy to forget when paying so quickly, but the tips really do matter to workers.

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About Bob Sullivan 1444 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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