Getting a raise should be unequivocally good news. And that’s the news Starbucks employees received on Monday: In a letter to employees, CEO Howard Schultz announced that as of October, every worker will get at least a 5 percent increase in wages. He also announced some changes to other benefits such as the stock program and health insurance coverage, and promises to make changes to scheduling and uniforms, both issues employees have been bringing up.
Across the board, Starbucks employees ThinkProgress spoke to welcome any raise. But the increase will mean little to those who are already struggling to afford their bills, and they all said that the company has missed the larger issues they’ve been trying to bring up. The company did not respond to a request for comment on the lingering issues.
Maximo Cortez has worked part time for Starbucks in Houston, Texas on and off over the last eight years, first while in school and now to save up some money. Cortez, a transgender man, is trying to accumulate enough to afford top surgery, something that will cost him $10,000. Meanwhile, he also needs to pay back student loans, pay his car expenses, and try to afford his apartment.
“Giving everyone a 5 percent wage increase, from barista to management, that’s a great step forward,” he said. But for him, currently making $8 an hour, that increase won’t mean much. “It won’t even be a dollar,” he noted.
It’s like they’re putting a band aid on a broken leg.
“There really is a need for a living wage” at Starbucks. He said he’s hopeful that Starbucks will answer the growing call for companies to pay $15 an hour minimum. “To live in an inner city where my Starbucks is at, you can’t afford an apartment with the salary you’re given at Starbucks alone.”
Matt, a shift supervisor in Wisconsin who did not want to use his last name, is a bit more optimistic. He was lucky enough to join the company about a year and a half ago after it announced an increase in its base pay and the pay it offered new employees, so he’s currently making $10.61 an hour, which means he’ll get about a 50-cent raise come October. “It’ll be nice, it’ll help me cover my bills a bit better,” he said.
Still, he struggles with the fact that while he works for Starbucks full time, his partner has a better paying job and covers a bigger share of their bills. “It definitely sucks knowing I don’t contribute to the household. I’m working full time and I can barely cover my own bills, let alone mutual house bills,” he said.
“A 5 percent raise is more than 0 percent,” he noted, “but 5 percent for somebody struggling to pay their rent every month is nothing.”
He’s also nervous that getting an increase now may reduce future raises. Employees say that when Starbucks announced its last round of wage increases in February 2015, it took away the normal biannual raise. “I’m concerned the October raise is going to jeopardize the January raise,” he said.
The financial difficulties Cortez and Matt have experienced are widespread throughout the workforce. More than 70 percent of the more than 600 self-identified Starbucks employees surveyed by petition site Coworker.org have to work additional jobs to make ends meet. More than a quarter rely on public assistance programs, while more than two-thirds rely on the company’s free food benefits because they have a limited grocery budget. Nearly 77 percent say they’ve delayed a major life decision — getting married, having a child, moving to a new home, or pursuing more education — because they don’t have the money.
At the same time, employees see bigger problems than just wages at Starbucks. Matt noted that he was disappointed other issues didn’t get addressed in Monday’s announcement. “They ignored a lot of the complaints we had,” he said. “It’s like they’re putting a band aid on a broken leg.”
He says cuts to the Starbucks workforce have left his store strapped for labor and erased many of the joys he previously got from the job, including conversations with customers and training in things like coffee tastings. “They’ve cut out what they call all non-necessary training… Anything extra is gone,” he said. Meanwhile, “When they cut people and I have a very small amount of people in the store, I don’t have additional time to be with the customer because I have a list of things I have to do to close.”
“To me it seems like they want two things that are completely separate and you can’t have both. They want high numbers and low labor, but they want a connecting culture,” he said. “If this is their idea of how to fix a morale problem…they’re going to be sorely mistaken.”
It makes me feel personally like there’s nothing happening… Let’s give you a lollipop and hopefully things will be better.
The very issue of labor shortages is what prompted Jaime Prater to create a petition, something that has gotten the attention of Starbucks corporate, prompting a phone call between him, Schultz, and other executives. “It’s never been this bad before,” he said of the shortages in stores.
Still, he feels like his main concerns went unanswered.
“First and foremost, the things Howard Schultz announced are really, really good things,” he said. “Higher wages are always better.”
But, he added, “The painful part of it, or the unfortunate part of it, was that there was no acknowledgement of the labor crisis happening in U.S. corporate stores. None whatsoever.” The announcement mentioned a commitment “to make every effort to help you meet your specific scheduling needs,” but didn’t offer any details on on what might change or when. “What does that mean? Where is the implementation for that?” Prater asked. “Why can’t he give specifics about that? That’s almost the most important.”
Cortez has seen the same problems at his store. At closing time, he says his store has just one employee to work the register, one at the bar, and one on inventory. Throughout the day, he said, there’s a “bottleneck” because there aren’t enough staff to execute all the orders while talking to customers. “This isn’t just a need for money… It’s more about investing in the employees,” he said.
“I would like to have some acknowledgement that, ‘Hey, we hear you, maybe we don’t agree but we understand there’s something happening,’” Prater said. “It makes me feel personally like there’s nothing happening… Let’s give you a lollipop and hopefully things will be better.”
Prater has worked at the company for nine years, and he says what he wants is to feel valued and listened to. “Howard Schultz has never backed away from difficult conversations,” he said. He noted that Race Together, a campaign Schultz started last year to get employees to talk to customers about race, “was a difficult conversation…but he wanted baristas to have a conversation aobut race. And now baristas want to have a conversation about labor.”