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Starbucks. What does the name say to you? Does it conjure up Van Gogh’s serene portrait of the “Starry Night”? Is it about the idealism of reaching for the stars? Or… is it just about the bucks?
For sure, this ubiquitous purveyor of corporate coffee reaches for the soft, socially progressive image of a cool coffee house. Okay, it’s a coffee chain, with over 4,500 look-alike, feel-alike, push-button outlets – but the company refers to itself as, “The Starbucks Experience.” CEO Howard Schultz even takes the imagery to a philosophical plateau: “We’re not in the business of filling bellies,” he recently oozed, “We’re in the business of filling souls.”
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How angelic. But a growing number of the 135,000 workers who do the grunt work that has made Preacher Shultz a very rich boss say that the “Starbucks Experience” is less than heavenly for them.
The corporation calls its workers “partners,” but pays them only $15,000 to $20,000 a year for full-time work. Then there’s the “optimal scheduling ” policy, which means you never know when or for how long you’ll be called in to work. Health care? Starbucks insures a lower percentage of its employees than Wal-mart does. And don’t even think of talking union – you’ll get harassed and possibly fired for that. Indeed, Starbucks is a leader in a corporate lobbying blitz to sidetrack the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers who want to form a union a way to stop the bullying, union-busting tactics of corporate bosses.
But it’s not just baristas and others inside the company who’re pushing for change. A tremendous online campaign called “Stop Starbucks” is using Twitter, Twitpics, contests, blogs, petitions, and other fun ways for grassroots folks to help make Starbucks as progressive as its image-makers want us to believe it is. Join the fun at www.stopstarbucks.com.
“Union campaign takes shots at Starbucks,” Austin American Statesman,” May 29, 2009.
“Starbucks’ Health Care Policy Is Sickening,” www.alternet.org, May 27, 2009.