Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Unfair Labor Practices: Starbucks Lawsuit

Starbucks, one of the world’s most successful and largest coffee chains, is a customer favorite from the West to East Coast.  A corporation that started out in Seattle as a single retail store in 1971 expanded by great leaps and bounds in 40 plus years looks like a true success story for many business minded individuals.  The multi-million dollar corporation, with over 17,000 stores located internationally, offers numerous work opportunities for budding baristas and coffee aficionados, alike.  Many might think that Starbucks, keeping their small beginnings in mind, may make their employees their number one priority.  However, many Starbucks employees feel the brunt of a money hungry corporation rather than the “employee comes first” approach.  Employees, eager to fight for the respect they deserve are filing lawsuits against Starbucks to receive the workers’ compensation they are owed and rightly deserve; without baristas, Starbucks would not be what they are today.

Starbucks Workers Union: Fighting For Corporate Baristas
The Starbucks Workers Union, works like any other union to protect the employees who feel like they have no voice or rights against corporate heads.  In 2006, the Workers Union successfully won a lawsuit against Starbucks and gained protection to keep their voices heard.  As declared by Federal Law, union members have the right to form and join a union.  Additionally, union members have the right choose representatives to bargain with members on their behalf and act together with other members for protection.

In the successful settlement, Starbucks promised that they would not prohibit union members from wearing pro-union buttons, prohibit employees from taking extra shifts at other Starbucks locations (when hours at their workplace were not available), and promised to stop offering “free” incentives to encourage or bribe employees to withdraw from union membership.  Union members, who were once let go from their job, for being involved in a union were offered reinstatement and monetary compensation for lost wages.

Workers Union Inspire The “Powerless” Baristas
Before the successful settlement of 2006, many baristas facing unfair labor practices remained quiet simply due to the fact that they were unable to afford not having a job.   Baristas, who generally make low wages, rely on the tips they make after making numerous specialized drinks.  In 2008, two former Starbucks baristas, filed a lawsuit against their former employer because they had to share tips with shift supervisors; an unlawful practice under section 196-d of New York’s Labor Law.  The law prohibits “higher ups” such as managers and supervisors, from sharing tips with baristas.  Because shift managers make more money than the average barista, hardworking coffee slingers need every cent they rightfully earn. 

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of Starbucks claiming that shift supervisors deserve a cut of the tip pool due to their overwhelming amount of responsibilities.  Years later, baristas are still voicing their displeasure against unfair practices and as a result, the case is returning to federal court of appeals. 

Give Those Busy Baristas a Break!
More recently, in May of 2013, Starbucks agreed to pay $3 million to resolve a class action lawsuit in regards to wage and hour violations.  Starbucks went to court when many California employees were denied required meal breaks and received inaccurate wage statements.  Starbucks employees were denied the company’s mandated breaks when the coffeehouse was too busy and/or if the coffeehouse was inadequately staffed.  According to California law, where the lawsuit took place, employees who work more than five hours at a time are entitled an uninterrupted, work-free 30 minute meal break.  If, for any reason, an employee misses their meal break, has to make work-related phone calls, or run work-related errands is entitled to one hour of extra pay.  Additionally, employers must have written record that employees were given their much earned break.

Corporations, Big or Small, Should Treat Employees Fairly

For anyone who has never worked in a food service position, being a barista might seem like a dream job full of easy tasks and fair wages.  Baristas, on the other hand, who know how hard a job can be while standing for hours, creating drinks, and working with customers, fight for the fair wages and working conditions.  The next time you order a venti latte, think about the person who makes it.  Is he or she in an environment that enforces fair labor practices?


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