I began my career with Starbucks in 2006. It was an exciting time. I was hired on as a shift manager. At that time, hourly pay was competitive. Starbucks led the pack. I was nearly hired on the spot. I had just moved back from a five year stint in California. The midwest called me home. I answered. So did Starbucks. Upon my hiring I began the first leg of a two trip journey. I would stay in the role of shift supervisor for nearly 6 years before I departed for another company that hired me on as an assistant store manager. I would eventually find my way back to Starbucks in the role of a barista.
My first few years at Starbucks were exciting. When I came on, it was a couple of years before the financial collapse, before everything changed. In the early days, hours were plentiful, as was a complimentary personal day, every 6 months. We received raises twice a year. Tips were good. At one point, I was able to save nearly 10k on tips alone, over the course of a year.
When the financial collapse hit, it reverberated throughout the company. 900 stores were shuttered, many ASMs (assistant store managers) were either demoted or laid off. Despite what was happening, I was able to keep my position, transferring from 3 different states, ending up in Chicago, affording a decent living. During this time, I started noticing a trend. With the introduction of VIA, the water soluble coffee, there was a crazy push to sell it, unlike anything I had ever seen before. The pressure to move packages of this instant coffee was insane. It took a few months and the voices of many within the store ranks to get the word to corporate that the pressure was too much. As good companies do, they heard our voices, and backed off. But it didn’t stop.
As the fallout continued to march its way into all aspects of American life, Starbucks couldn’t sit still. Soon, our personal days were gone, bonuses, gone. The rate by which we accrued vacation days was slowed exponentially. It would take almost a year to accrue 5 days of paid vacation. Partner (employee) hours were cut to meet labor expectations. Naturally, Starbucks had to make hard decisions to keep business profitable. It hurt, some of it made sense, but it hurt.
It’s been 8 long years since the financial collapse. The economy has strengthened, job growth fortified, companies have seen growth, strong growth. Starbucks has also experienced growth and profits, unprecedented in its history. Starbucks, despite this growth, has continued to scale back, at an alarming pace. Partners who feel this the most are baristas, working in corporate stores. The labor situation has gone from tight to infuriating. Labor has been cut so much in corporate stores, that one call-off (an employee calling in sick) impacts the entire day, as managers are directed to cut shifts to save on labor costs. Baristas trying to work more than 30 hours a week (myself included) find that a near impossible task. You end up taking it personally, when corporate directs your stores to understaff, and under schedule. You wonder if they realize how difficult it is to pay your bills when you work 25 hours a week?
Right now, the labor allowed to stores is so dire that it’s killing morale, companywide. Let it be stated that this job isn’t a hard one. It’s demanding, but it’s easy work, if trained properly. Customers want their coffee and they want it in a timely fashion. As labor continues to be cut, it creates an atmosphere where baristas are worn to the bone without being able to take a breath. Cleanliness suffers, speed of service suffers, partners suffer.
Many baristas are twenty-something college students, living at home. Many more are people like myself, artists, writers, breadwinners, who depend on their income.
The tip situation has also drastically changed. 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 way Starbucks frames itself, is that it’s a company worth investing in, worth being loyal to. Because of the health care, the benefits, the 401K, the stock, on the outside, why wouldn’t you want to invest yourself, as an employee to a great company? (and it is a great company).
Realistically, investing in starbucks, as an employee, is becoming more difficult. Hours are becoming more elusive as store managers hire 10-20 employees at 20-25 hours a week, sacrificing tenured employees. At Starbucks, tenure makes no difference. These days, a 7 year employee makes as much as a new hire. Experience is given no merit. Right now, the labor climate keeps most baristas regularly underemployed, enough to qualify for benefits, but not enough to afford to pay for them. The most frustrating aspect lately is the pay, and having to commute to work for a 4.5 hour shift, while spending over an hours worth of pay to get yourself there.
Labor is the real bone of contention, in addition to the drinks that corporate continues to roll out, (absent the labor to support them, as in years past), baristas also continue to struggle in their stores, with more expectation, with less support staff. These days, baristas do the work for two to three people as labor isn’t just cut to save money, it’s under cut, so stores are intentionally understaffed.
I love Starbucks. As an artist, and a fan of process, it’s a job that plays into that love (and to my strengths), and a genuine connection to people and customers of all ages, races, genders, and expressions. The Starbucks culture is singular. I haven’t experienced it anywhere else. What’s happening is a slow extinction of that culture. As less and less people are staffed in stores the pressure mounts. THIS is what needs to change. Baristas are experiencing fewer hours, more pressure, and mounting expectations. What suffers the most, as a result of this, is the customer experience.
It’s very difficult to take pride in a company that purposefully understaffs the stores we work in, and cannot give you the kind of money to survive on. Starbucks was better than this. Starbucks can be better than this.
The Eight Pop Tart Flavors My Local Corner Store Carries, Definitively Ranked:
8. Unfrosted Blueberry
I give this one a solid “what the fuck”.
7. Brown Sugar Cinnamon
The internet said this would be good and I feel extremely lied to.
It’s kind of bland? It’s better than unfrosted but worse than just eating a strawberry cereal bar, somehow.
5. Hot Fudge Sundae
It’s just okay! It’s a lot worse raw than it is toasted, which is unfortunate, because I hate walking to the kitchen and waiting for Pop Tarts to toast so I usually just end up eating them raw in the comfort of my bed, where only God can judge me.
4. Blue Raspberry
I had never had this before and expected it to be really just terrible but you know what? It was good. As someone who got to eat very little processed food as a kid, I find myself able to enjoy most things that are an unnatural electric blue color. Blue raspberry Pop Tarts are no exception.
3. Cookies and Cream
It’s just like eating a bigger Oreo. Culinary genius.
2. Chocolate Peanut Butter
The only reason this isn’t #1 is because the boxes they come in actually have one fewer package of Pop Tarts in them than a regular box. Don’t stiff me, Pop Tarts.