07 June 2009

What have I been doing for the last 5 years?

For the last 5 years, until a week ago today, I worked for corporate coffee giant Starbucks. You may have noticed in the past that I would mention my job, but not really get too specific about it, other than the fact that I hated it, and it was killing me slowly, causing my hands to swell up until they looked like lobster claws. You see, Starbucks has a team of people whose job is to patrol the internet, checking up on its employees. There was a barista a few years back who got busted selling stolen CDs on Ebay. The cyber patrol saw the CDs for sale, traced the seller's name back to this kid, checked at his store to see whether he had actually purchased them, and fired him after it was determined that he was indeed selling stolen property. Aside from the question of how they found out identity of the seller, most would see this as a diligent company protecting its bottom line. No harm there; a thief is a thief and deserves his punishment. What about the head office checking up on an employee's blog? Google analytics has confirmed for me that someone at Starbucks in Seattle visited my blog, typing the address directly into the address bar. This means that they knew exactly what they were looking for. I'm sure it's no coincidence that I shared the blog address with some coworkers the previous week. I did some checking, and it seems that courts have upheld a company's right to censor the speech of its employees, even in their off-time. Given the expectation when I am on the clock that I never speak ill of the company or its policies, it's only a short leap from there to being fired for talking trash about them on this site. My district manager, that scumbag, assured me that I had nothing to worry about, that they were only checking to see if any proprietary information was revealed, like sales numbers or yet-to-be-released products, but I remained unconvinced. So I kept my silence, waiting for this day, when I would be free from recrimination and able to tell the stories and name names.
And now the day has come, and I have so much anger towards this company, so many things I think the public should know, so many stories you should hear, stories that will illustrate the deep chasm between what Starbucks is and what they promote themselves to be. I have thought of writing a book, the polar opposite of "How Starbucks Saved My Life," a real book which is about to be made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. (No shit. That's for real.)
I have met so many wonderful people on both sides of the counter, including the Lady Toaster, who even now toils 8 hours a day in the Frappuccino mines. I feel bad for her, and the hundreds of other people who believed the lie that Starbucks cares about them, who now find themselves trapped, because of the contracting economy. People are their most valuable resource, they say, but when times get tough, it's just like George Bush's America: the founding principles are the first thing to go out the window. It started last year. You see, the weekly schedule of who works when is made by a computer program, based on input from the store manager. This program forecasts sales, figures in everything that has to get done in a day, like putting away orders, cleaning, etc., and gives a manager X number of hours in any given day to work with. Everything has a value. For example, every frappuccino might take 45 seconds to make, so if the forecast says you're going to sell 100 frappuccinos in a day, you get 75 minutes of labor to work with. Drip coffee is less time consuming, figure 10 seconds times 500 in a day. Grinding coffee, warming those stupid frakkin' sandwiches, going out and cleaning off the condiment bar because some asshole spilled his coffee all over it, all that is factored in, and you get a schedule that, in theory, has just enough people on the floor at any time to handle whatever is thrown their way. They must have seen which way the wind was blowing, because in January 2008 they started cutting the labor allowances slightly. Minus 2 seconds for each espresso drink, a little less time to put the daily order away, you get the idea. Not many people really noticed that everyone was working just a little bit harder each day, until they told us to stop pouring the espresso shots into shot glasses and just pour directly into the cup, reversing an order that had been in place for less than a year. (When they told us to start using the shot glasses, it was presented as a quality issue. When they told us to stop, they said it was a quality issue. Quality?) Ok, no more shot glasses, there's 10 seconds off each drink. Now everyone definitely realizes they are working harder. Fast forward to the fall of 08; the economy is in freefall, sales are down, Obama looks like a lock to win in November. Word comes down the pipe that they are making a massive cut in labor. We lost, in my store, 3-4 hours a day, and my closing shift went from having 3 people all night to having 3 people until 2 hours before close, then closing with 2 people. Ok, now everyone is working like dogs. Then they started in on our benefit time. No more personal days for anyone under the level of store manager. No more vacation time for anyone who's been with the company for less than a year, and anyone who's been with the company for less than 5 has the rate at which they accrue vacation time severely cut. This is no fun, but the worst part is that pulling the rug out from under us was their first resort. There was never any major push to cut down on how much coffee we waste, how much we order. Nobody had the idea to stop carrying products that were not selling, or to stop sending out all those damn posters and new menu board signs to every store every 6 weeks.
Now the kicker. Legendary service is the idea that everyone should come into Starbucks and walk out with the feeling that the people behind the counter are their best friends. We were expected to smile, be perky, chat up every single customer. (No shit, I was actually told that I had to make conversation with every single person in my line.) It's a great idea for a business; when I go into a store, a friendly, helpful employee can make a big difference, but they are not accounting for the diversity of personality on their staff. What about quiet, shy, thoughtful people? Do they have no place in Starbucks? And how am I supposed to make conversation in the middle of a morning rush, when I can see the faces of the people in line who just want to get their coffee and go to work? How the FRAK am I supposed to be cheerful when I am being worked like a dog for less than I was getting a year or 2 ago?
That's just a general overview of the last year or so. There are more stories, and maybe you'll hear them, like the one about the completely inept barista who went on Good Morning America and talked about how awesome Starbucks is, and was rewarded with a promotion, passing over a dozen better qualified candidates, or the one about how Lady Toaster lost her health coverage and was nearly fired because of it. Or how about the tyrannical manager who never worked nights or weekends and enforced the rules in an arbitrary and unfair way, and was rewarded with "Manager of the Quarter" and a wad of bonus cash? I got a million of 'em.
For those of you who were looking for a post on The Incident or the Loophole, have no fear, I am participating in the rewatch, and will be posting my thoughts as appropriate. This will not turn into an anti-Starbucks blog, I promise.
On a personal note, Happy Birthday, Sacramento!!! I hope you can escape like I did.
That is all.