A Starbucks barista’s petition complaining that the coffee chain has cut working hours in its stores to the point of “gross underemployment” for workers has garnered more than 11,000 signatures and the attention of top Starbucks executives.

Share story

A Starbucks barista’s petition complaining that the coffee chain has cut working hours in its stores to the point of “gross underemployment” for workers has garnered more than 11,000 signatures and the attention of top Starbucks executives.

“Morale is at the lowest I’ve seen it in my nearly nine years of service with Starbucks,” barista Jaime Prater writes in his online petition on Coworker.org. “What’s happening currently is some of the most extreme labor cuts in Starbucks history.”

The 40-year-old barista, who works at a Starbucks in Montclair, Calif., alleges in his petition that store managers are “directed to cut shifts to save on labor costs.” As a result, baristas such as him who are trying to get more than 25 hours a week “find that a near impossible task.”

Starbucks spokeswoman Jaime Riley, who said the company employs 160,000 workers in the U.S., denied that the company issued orders to cut hours.

“There’s a misperception that there’s a top-down directive regarding labor,” she said. “There is not.”

Prater, she said, “is speaking to his personal experience and to his store. Every single store manager is working to balance the needs of the store with what the business trends are, with the needs of the partners [employees], against normal seasonality and what we see throughout the year with customer behaviors and purchases.”

Still, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and other top executives have called Prater, both Riley and Prater said.

Most Read Stories

Sale! Get 90% off digital access.

Riley said it was important for Schultz to “understand what his [Prater’s] concerns are and, if there are others, what their concerns are.”

Starbucks executives also talked with the company’s regional leaders to encourage “strong two-way dialogue around scheduling and staffing” with store managers and employees, Riley said.

Prater said he wants employees to be given the work hours they need to live on, for stores to have enough staff to run well, and for longtime employees to feel valued.

Prater said: “I believe he [Schultz] is going to do the right thing. I don’t want to escalate this further. People have talked about walk-offs, sit-ins. Oh my God, I don’t want that.”

Starbucks is one of the companies at the center of a national debate over scheduling practices and availability of hours for retail workers. The coffee chain’s scheduling practices came up during the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in March and during an event in which two Seattle City Council members heard about workers’ scheduling issues. The City Council is working on a scheduling law that could include a provision for offering additional hours to part-time workers.

Prater’s petition, reported on earlier by Reuters, had drawn more than 11,540 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Many of the signers say they also work at Starbucks and face similar labor cuts and understaffing.

Prater, who says he does not work for nor has talked to any unions, said 9,000 of the signers are identified on Coworker.org as Starbucks workers. (That’s impossible to verify since signers do not give their full names or locations.)

“As a supervisor, I see partner morale in decline almost every day I work,” Lina S. wrote on the petition. “There are certainly other factors that play into this, but a lot of it has to do with the constant need to cut labor that seems to be built into our scheduling.”

Cory W. wrote: “I had to leave Starbucks because I wasn’t getting any hours. After working there over a year, my hours were significantly cut. Nearly half my store has quit in a 3 month period, leaving most of the store to newbies.”

In an interview, Prater said he noticed staffing cutbacks starting this spring, after Starbucks’ second-quarter earnings showed sales that rose but still fell short of Wall Street expectations.

In that quarter, the company racked up $4.99 billion in sales, up 9 percent from the year before but short of analysts’ expectations of $5.03 billion. Sales growth in stores in the Americas open at least a year, meanwhile, was the same as the year before, at 7 percent.

Prater also said that, in his experience, longer tenured workers get paid the same as new hires, and that Starbucks’ highly touted mobile order-and-pay system, in which customers can order drinks and pay for them via their smartphones, has reduced the amount of tips that workers get.

Prater — who worked at Starbucks as a shift manager for six years, stepped away for 15 months and came back to work as a barista for the past three years — says he loves the job, and the flexibility in hours is good for an artist such as him.

“But as someone who’s been with the company this long, I should be making more,” he said. He makes $10 an hour.

And he said that, though he needs about 36 hours a week to make ends meet, he gets about 22 to 25.

He appreciates that the company extends benefits to employees who work 20 hours a week or more.

“But you have to be able to afford the benefits that they offer you,” he said.