Starbucks employees still face ‘clopening,’ understaffing, and irregular workweeks

According to a new study by The Center for Popular Democracy.

Starbucks hasn’t lived up to its promises, employees say. Zhang Peng / Getty Images

Starbucks employees say their schedules aren’t nearly as sweet as those pumpkin spice lattes they’re serving up this fall.

In a new report from the Center for Popular Democracy, a nonprofit that works with community groups, Starbucks workers said the coffee company has failed over the past year to make good on a promise to improve employees’ schedules. Instead, employees said they still face unpredictable workweeks, obstacles to taking sick leave, insufficient rest and staffing, and a failure to honor their availability.

“Starbucks’ frontline employees bear the brunt of the management imperative to minimize store labor costs, which takes precedence over attempts to stabilize work hours, provide healthy schedules, and to ensure employees have real input into their working conditions,’’ the report states.


The issues detailed in the report are familiar to anyone to many who work on “non-standard’’ schedules common among low wage jobs.

Starbucks first came under fire after a New York Times article from August 2014 described the struggle of a Starbucks barista and single mother, whose irregular work schedule caused turbulence in her personal relationships, other jobs and parental routine. The source of such chaos was supposedly Starbucks’s sophisticated scheduling software that cuts labor costs by arranging workers’ weeks based on sales patterns.

While this technology can boost a business’s profits, it can also leave workers working back-to-back shifts (also known as ‘clopening’), or not receiving enough hours to make ends meet. Sometimes, as the Times article pointed out, employees would commute to work just to find their schedule changed.

After the public backlash, Starbucks promised to revise its policies and end the irregular scheduling practices for its roughly 130,000 baristas in the U.S.

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To achieve this, Starbucks said it would post all work hours 10 days in advance, and give any baristas with more than an hour long commute the option to transfer to a more convenient location. Starbucks also said it would revise the scheduling technology and kill the clopening shift.


But much has remained unchanged, according to the 200 workers across 37 states the Center for Popular Democracy interviewed.

Nearly half of the surveyed Starbucks employees said they received their schedule one week or less in advance, and one in four workers said they still had to work clopening shifts.

Employees also reported feeling as though managers disregarded their availability, and denied them more hours when they needed additional work. Finally, 40 percent of employees said they faced barriers to taking sick leave when they were ill.

None of this seems to fit with Starbucks’s reputation as a “fabulous company’’ to work for, as jobs and recruiting website Glassdoor described it in its annual ranking of the 50 best places to work in 2014. Starbucks came in at No. 39.

The Center for Popular Democracy’s report did have some suggestions for improvement, however, recommending that Starbucks guarantee minimum hours and full-time work for those who want it. It also said the company should mandate that managers provide predictable schedules so working families can have a more stable work-life balance, in addition to taking the pressure off sick employees to find a replacement for a shift.


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