Some workers at Starbucks have described understaffing at stores, intense workloads, and customers who have changed their ordering habits and become increasingly aggressive and confrontational during the coronavirus pandemic.
In March 2021, Starbucks shareholders rejected an executive compensation plan for CEO Kevin Johnson in a non-binding vote, as dozens of corporations have boosted executive pay while many of their rank-and-file workers have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic.
Many Starbucks workers say their pay is still too low for what has become more intense work.
“I’m not compensated enough for the amount of work that I do, because I’m still struggling to pay my bills, pay my rent, and buy groceries. I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck and it’s really hard to save money. I give so much of my time and energy to this job and the compensation doesn’t measure up to the amount of work that we have to do,” said a Starbucks shift supervisor in New York who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
They added: “The labor hours we get are not enough for the sheer volume of orders that we have to produce. They’re asking way too much of us and a lot of the time I don’t have enough people on the floor to do all the things that Starbucks asks us to do.”
The workers explained they are regularly subjected to customer satisfaction surveys where they are at risk of being written up if they fail the surveys and the pressure to meet drive-thru time quotas, as drive-thru sales and an emphasis on drive-thrus from Starbucks corporate have increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Starbucks definitely took this turn to becoming just another fast-food drive-thru,” added the Starbucks shift supervisor. “They want us to just be these robots that move fast, we’re just little drones to them that just need to pump out as many lattes as we can in a half-hour.”
The percentage of Starbucks’ sales through mobile orders has grown significantly over the past several years, from 10% of all sales at the end of 2017 to 24% at the end of 2020.
The retail chain also expanded delivery service around the US through Uber Eats in the beginning of 2020. Workers say the different methods of orders, mobile, drive-thru, delivery and in-person, have increased their workloads and disrupted their customer service capabilities as well as seeing staff leave, leading to more pressure on remaining employees.
“With mobile order or delivery, we can’t always clarify what they want and people will get very mad over sort of little stuff when you’ve made the drink almost perfectly, and it’s frustrating to feel like you can’t say we can’t really make it that way, so people treat us like coffee-making robots,” said a Starbucks barista in Maryland, who said they believed explained customer service has been prioritized over safety concerns and respect for workers during the pandemic.
They said: “I’ve been chastised for asking people to wear their masks correctly or asking people to put their masks back on because people like to take their masks up specifically to talk to us and the plastic barriers we have up, people will bang on them like they’re glass.”
In Massachusetts, a Starbucks barista explained they are still concerned about coronavirus even though they are vaccinated, as their infant daughter is not. But Starbucks is one of several retail chains that are adhering to CDC guidelines permitting vaccinated individuals to not wear masks in stores, though workers have no way of differentiating between customers who are vaccinated and those who are not.
“Working during this pandemic has been a terrifying experience. It’s been almost unbearable and a few times, I’ve almost wanted to quit because it gets to the point we don’t get paid enough to deal with verbal abuse from customers on a daily basis,” the barista said.
On top of the pressures of the pandemic, other social trends have hit hard too. Complicated, long drink orders have also become increasingly normal, workers say, due to viral TikTok videos of users sharing secret menu drinks or their own recipes, while mobile orders don’t limit the amount or type of modifications permitted for each drink.
A Starbucks barista was recently fired in May 2021 after they made a social media post complaining of a drink order with several modifications that went viral.
“These orders are driving us insane because they’re so long, so specific and it requires you to do much more work than you should be doing for one single drink and they’re not being adequately translated into our labor hours,” added another Starbucks shift supervisor in New York.
A Starbucks spokesperson told the Guardian in an email, “Our 200,000 partners across the US are the best people in the business, and their experiences are key to helping us make Starbucks a meaningful and inspiring place to work. We offer a world-class benefits program for all part- and full-time partners and continued support for partners during Covid-19 to care for themselves and their families, and we continue to have an industry-leading retention rate.”